Co-op chief insists Lloyds branch buy is still possible

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The Independent Online

Peter Marks, the chief executive of the Co-operative Group, yesterday insisted that it could still take over 632 Lloyds bank branches being sold as Project Verde.

But he admitted that there were still major concerns. He said: "There are significant economic and regulatory hurdles that we are talking to Lloyds and the Financial Services Authority about. Verde does not even have a profit-and-loss account. We are determined to do full due diligence."

Mr Marks said that a decision on Verde is now "weeks, not months, away" but stressed that the Co-op's bid is "non-binding" and would proceed only if the deal was in the interests of "our members and other stakeholders".

Lloyds shares fell nearly 3 per cent to 33.42p on continued fears that the deal with the Co-op will not come off.

A huge fall in supermarket profits left Co-op's full-year profits 6 per cent lower at £373m on sales 1 per cent higher at £13.3bn. Food-operating profits fell 20 per cent to £309m while bank profits were flat at £200m before a £90m charge for payment-protection insurance.

Mr Marks believes things could get worse before they get better for UK consumers. He said: "We may not be in technical recession but the Governor of the Bank of England thinks we are and so does Mrs Bloggs."

Co-op sales of petrol from its 217 stations rose 50 per cent last week on fears over the oil-tanker-drivers' strike. Mr Marks said the food side of the business has built up "around two weeks" of fuel stocks to keep deliveries running.

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