Outlook: Bids for Sears

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The Independent Online
ARE WE approaching the final denouement in the tangled affairs of Sears, Britain's perennial retail under-achiever? Phillip Green, Bankers Trust, an unnamed American venture capital group, Uncle Tom Cobliegh and all are reported to be sniffing around, so surely someone can be relied upon to do the decent thing and put the beleaguered stores company out of its misery.

Sears is certainly braced for a bid and there seem to be plenty of people lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce. But so far this has been more of a virtual bid situation - a takeover conducted by planted leak and innuendo - rather than the real thing. Nobody has yet put a proper bid on the table, less still formally announced one.

Despite this, the share price has been on the up and up since the story first developed legs. Shouldn't the Takeover Panel now intervene and ask the Stock Exchange to suspend share dealings until the bidders' real intentions become clearer? Unfortunately, share suspension is a double-edged sword; it prevents shareholders getting out, as well as gullible investors from going in.

Even so, a resolution is urgently required. Sears plainly expects Mr Green to make his move any day now. If he does manage to muster the money, it will be interesting to see how institutional shareholders react.

Mr Green has proved himself an excellent deal-maker, but each time he has bought from Sears, he has also royally legged the company over. Whatever Mr Green offers, Sears is certainly worth a lot more.

All the same, almost anything would be better than nothing, so dire has been the performance of the Sears share price. Phillips & Drew, Sears' largest shareholder, was hedging its bets yesterday by offloading some of its stake. This demonstrates the urgency of the situation. Mr Green and others should put up or shut up.