Rumour mill grinds out more bidders for M&S

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ALL EYES will again be on Marks & Spencer shares when trading begins this morning, after more potential bidders were ground out of the rumour mill over the weekend.

Tesco spent yesterday damping down speculation that it was about to launch an pounds 11bn bid, as the Barclay brothers and corporate raider Phillip Green joined the growing list of people reported to be interested.

Tesco is known to have examined M&S as a potential target, but it refused to be drawn on reports that Credit Suisse First Boston had been advising chief executive Terry Leahy in the past few weeks. A deal would enable it to expand its non-food business in the face of competition from Wal- Mart, the new owner of Asda.

"This is all just more rumour, and we don't comment on speculation," Tesco said.

Meanwhile, the Barclay brothers, the secretive twins who own the Ritz Hotel, the Scotsman newspaper and a fortress island in the English Channel, are rumoured to have hired investment bankers to hunt for acquisitions. And Phillip Green, the maverick corporate raider who bought and split up Sears with the help of the Barclay brothers earlier this year, has been spotted in the City in recent weeks and M&S is thought to be on his new hitlist of retail names.

The two additional suggestions emerged after a extraordinary day's trading on Friday when almost 100 million M&S shares changed hands amid a frenzy of bid speculation. The shares rose 14 per cent to 300p on Friday.

Archie Norman's shell company Knutsford, and Kingfisher, the owner of B&Q and Woolworths, were among the others rumoured to be interested in buying up the troubled high street chain.