Fears for Morrisons as lead bidder will look at property assets
Concerns emerged on Friday that Morrisons may be loaded with heavier costs after it's been taken over by private equity. The lead bidder said it will conduct a review of the firm’s property portfolio, raising the spectre of sale and leaseback deals that could give any new owners a fast return on their money but would add rent costs to Morrisons’ bottom line.
The consortium that has seen its £6.3 billion bid being recommended by the board had previously given reassurances that it wasn’t simply looking to make a fast buck by selling off the property portfolio that accounts for 87% of the chain’s stores.
But it has said it will will conduct "a fuller evaluation of the group and its operations and organisational structure" within six months of a takeover. This would include a close look at the hundreds of freeholds Morrisons owns.
It repeated its assurance not to sell a significant number of stores, but it’s not clear what that would mean in terms of store numbers.
The potential deal has been backed by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, who said he has spoken to the supermarket chain’s management team about it.
But trade unions and some industry observers are concerned given that assurances from new owners don’t have any legal backing.
Morrisons, which has been increasing its fashion profile in recent periods via its Nutmeg label, has arranged a meeting for August 16 in which shareholders will be able to vote on the recommended deal.
But at the same time, another private equity group — Clayton, Dubillier & Rice — is also mulling whether to make another offer after its earlier bid was quickly rebuffed.
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