Sears to decide on Freemans

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The Independent Online
Sears, the retailing group, looks set to decide by the end of this week whether to try to agree a deal to sell its Freemans home shopping business to Littlewoods, subject to the result of a fresh investigation by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC).

An exclusivity clause giving Littlewoods sole rights to negotiate a purchase is understood to run out tomorrow, the day before Sears Executive board, led by embattled chief executive Liam Strong, meets to decide on the proposal. Sears is thought likely to give more details on the sale with its financial results announcement next week.

The Government yesterday called a second MMC investigation into the planned Littlewoods purchase of Freemans. The previous investigation was halted after Sears abandoned the negotiations. The MMC has to report its findings by 21 July.

However, the Department of Trade and Industry cleared a potential takeover by N Brown, the Manchester-based home shopping company which pulled out of talks to buy Freemans last month. One suggestion last night was that N Brown may seek to re-open talks to buy the business at a lower price while Sears is waiting for the outcome of the MMC review on the Littlewoods acquisition.

It also emerged yesterday that attempts by Boots, the retailing group, to make an offer for several of Littlewood's high street stores had been rebuffed. Littlewoods has insisted it will only sell the stores together.

Boots declined to comment on speculation. But it is thought to have expressed an interest in turning 15 of Littlewoods outlets into Boots branches, out of the 135 shops on the market.

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