Safeway to press Green over bid plans

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Safeway, the supermarket retailer at the heart of a protracted £3bn five-way takeover battle, is to meet Philip Green on Thursday, to ascertain if the entrepreneur is serious about mounting a bid.

David Webster, Safeway's chairman, will press Mr Green to clarify his intentions towards Britain's fourth biggest supermarket operator. The meeting will be the first between the two sides since Mr Green lodged his interest in the group in January.

Mr Green, whose potential offer was cleared by the Office of Fair Trading in March, is under no pressure to formalise an offer. He is thought to be waiting to see whether the Takeover Panel plans to allow rival bidders to launch conditional bids ahead of the outcome of a regulatory inquiry into the sector. The other bidders are Wm Morrison, J Sainsbury, Tesco and Wal-Mart's Asda.

A Safeway spokesman said: "We want to clarify whether he is a serious potential bidder or not. Before we give him any further [financial] particulars we need to be clear." The retailer has been seeking a meeting with Mr Green, owner of high street brands from BhS to Top Shop, for the past three weeks.

Most analysts expect Mr Green to wait until the Competition Commission publishes the result of its investigation before making a further move. A decision by the commission is not expected until September. A banking source close to the retailer said the other bidders such as Sainsbury's and Morrisons had had "endless meetings".

Mr Green, who is being advised by Merrill Lynch, first contacted Safeway three weeks ago, requesting further financial details. The supermarket's spokesman said "virtually all the requests had been covered" in the information sent to all parties in February.

Safeway warned last week that underlying sales, which grew 1 per cent in its last financial year, would probably slip into negative territory. It posted pre-tax profits of £335m.