Morrisons bidder to match rival’s property pledges

Private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice will promise not to sell off swathes of Morrisons’ properties when it tables a new bid for the supermarket this week.

The Big 4 grocer owns around 85 per cent of its freeholds, which some analysts believe could be worth up to £9 billion.

Its board is currently recommending a £6.7 billion offer from a consortium led by buyout firm Fortress.

The group includes the property arm of Koch Industries, leading many to anticipate large-scale property sales if the deal goes through.

READ MORE: Think tank founder condemns ‘asset-stripping’ Morrisons bidders

Experts believe that even if the sale does not rise beyond its current 272p-a-share level, the buyer could not make an acceptable return without substantial asset sales.

However, Fortress said it “does not anticipate engaging in any material store sale and leaseback transactions”.

A source told the BBC that Clayton, Dubilier & Rice could make similar commitments when it tries to overtake Fortress’ offer by Friday.

Exactly what “material” means to either company is unclear.

“Morrisons owns 86 per cent of its stores, Tesco around 55 per cent,” a person close to Clayton, Dubilier & Rice said.

“If Morrisons moved to 75 per cent, that would still mean it owned the vast majority.”

Fortress has also said it will continue paying staff of £10 an hour, safeguard pensions and maintain the supermarket’s head office in Bradford.

It is unknown if Clayton, Dubilier & Rice will match these pledges, which are not legally binding.

Some are sceptical about the sale, pointing to Cadbury buyer Kraft going back on its word by closing a Bristol factory and putting 400 out of work in 2010.

“It’s always worrying when a private equity company has no connection with what was until recently a family owned-business,” Kevin Hollinrake MP told The Sunday Telegraph last month.

“With the Kraft-Cadbury issue we have been let down before, so I think it’s reasonable to ask for something more than assurances.”

The successful bidder must get the support of three-quarters of the grocer’s shareholders.

Fortress recently upped its offer from 252p to 272p-a-share after major investors indicated they would not support anything below 270p.

Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, which tabled a 230p offer in June, must raise its original bid by at least a fifth to beat its New York-based rival.

Some believe the Morrisons share price could hit 290p after a bidding war between the two firms.

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