Green turns his back on the scramble for Safeway

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The Independent Online

Philip Green, owner of the Arcadia and Bhs retail chain, has ruled himself out of the running for the supermarkets group Safeway - just days before the other four potential bidders learn whether they will be cleared to bid.

The retailing entrepreneur told The Independent on Sunday that he would not be making a bid for Safeway.

Speaking at a party held last Thursday to celebrate the opening of a new store by Burton and Dorothy Perkins, both Arcadia owned, Mr Green said he had studied financial information provided by Safeway and its merchant bank, HSBC, to all potential bidders. Based on this, he said:"I wouldn't put any of my money into [Safeway] ... and I wouldn't put anyone else's in either, not if I liked them."

Mr Green also indicated he had not spent much money building a stake in Safeway. Three years ago, when he stalked Marks & Spencer, he built a substantial shareholding before deciding not to bid.

The documents Mr Green referred to were sent out at the beginning of the summer, since when the situation at Safeway has deteriorated. Though the hot weather has helped all supermarkets, Tesco, Asda and Wm Morrison have gained market share at the expense of J Sainsbury and Safeway, according to figures collated by research house Taylor Nelson Sofres.

Mr Green's admission is his first comment on Safeway since he indicated he would bid early this year, shortly after an agreed offer by Bradford-based Morrisons started the ball rolling.

Mr Green is the only one of the five parties currently allowed to bid, having been given the all-clear by Competition Commission regulators five months ago. The other bidders, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Wal-Mart/Asda and Morrisons, have overlapping businesses, says the Office of Fair Trading. The Competition Commission last month announced its decision on the conditions to be set if any of the four is allowed to bid.

Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, is due to announce her own decision on Safeway in the next few days. It is expected Morrisons will have a clear run; Wal-Mart/Asda will need to sell off a large number of stores to secure Safeway; and Sainsbury's and Tesco will in effect be blocked.

The Morrisons camp is becoming increasingly confident of victory. Announcing strong figures last week, the group's chairman, Sir Ken Morrison, said: "I'm confident we've got the best chance." Bob Scott, group joint managing director, ruled out a deal with any other bidders to carve up Safeway.

Wal-Mart/Asda is the most serious rival, given the financial muscle of its parent company, the US superstores giant Wal-Mart. Like Morrisons, it is heavily biased towards the north of England and is keen to secure Safeway's southern and inner-city stores.

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