Jun 21, 2021
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Nutmeg owner Morrisons could see bid frenzy

Jun 21, 2021

One of the the ‘Big Four’ UK supermarket chains, Morrisons, has received an unsolicited bid approach valuing it at £5.5 billion. But it has rejected the offer as too low, despite it being above its closing share price as of Friday. It’s shares rose more than 30% on Monday morning on the news.

Photo: Sandra Halliday

Analysts now expect a possible bidding war to erupt for the business that owns the Nutmeg clothing and homewares brand, as well as being Britain’s fourth-largest grocer. Its size makes it a significant player in the clothing sector.

On Monday, Morrisons said its board “notes the recent announcement by Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and confirms that on 14 June it received an unsolicited highly conditional non-binding proposal from CD&R in relation to a proposed cash offer of 230p per Morrisons share”.

It said its board and advisors “unanimously concluded that the Conditional Proposal significantly undervalued Morrisons and its future prospects”.

It’s unclear whether CD&R will come back with a higher offer, but analysts who said Morrisons had been in the sights of several potential bidders now expect that they could come up with offers too. 

But there are also fears that debt-fuelled buyouts could negatively impact the business with Seema Malhotra, the Labour shadow minister for business and consumers, saying the ability of private equity firms to load companies with debt and later walk away needs to end. 

Asda’s recent £6.8 billion takeover included a large debt element (although there’s clearly a commitment from its new owners to turn around its fortunes), and UK retail is still reeling from the long-drawn-out demise of Debenhams after several periods of private equity ownership.

Supermarkets are hugely attractive to private equity bidders due to their heavy cash flow and valuable property assets — two factors that had also been appealing about Debenhams.

For now, in accordance with the Takeover Code, CD&R has until the end of the day on 17 July to either announce a firm intention to make an offer for the company or walk away.

While any change of ownership at Morrisons would be a big deal for the UK grocery sector, it would also impact the fashion market.

Supermarket ranges, such as Morrisons’ Nutmeg, George at Asda, Tu Clothing by Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s F+F take major share in the UK fashion market these days. And Tesco’s results last week included the news that like-for-like clothing sales rose 52.1% in the first quarter to the end of May. That included a period when most physical shops were closed.

During lockdowns, supermarkets were able to carry on selling clothing in many parts of the UK. This helped boost their share and potentially won new converts who’ll stick with them even now that stores are open again.

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