National News: “Somerfield Auction Is Going Ahead”




A national news story from the Independent with obvious implications for Rayleigh Town Centre (and Hockley, and Golden Cross)

The sale of Somerfield is going ahead, defying speculation that the auction had been abandoned. Sources said Robert Tchenguiz, part-owner of the ?2bn supermarket chain, is still hopeful a sale can be agreed.

The Co-operative group was thought to be the only bidder to have tabled an offer for the retailer before the first-round auction deadline earlier this month. Other interested parties, such as Asda, are keen to buy parts of the business, but are not likely to make a full offer.

However, a source close to Mr Tchenguiz told The Independent on Sunday: “People are saying this is all over but it’s not by a long shot. There’s still a lot of interest in Somerfield and we expect further bids to come.”

But he conceded: “Look, had we known back in June last year, when we kicked this off, what we know now, clearly we wouldn’t have started this whole process, but we have.”

Mr Tchenguiz, working beside an Apax-led consortium, bought Somerfield in 2005 for ?1.1bn. When it was put up for sale last year, Marks & Spencer, J Sainsbury and Wm Morrison were all believed to have indicated interest in the auction.

Tesco was the only one of the UK’s big chains not to run the ruler over Somerfield.

Under chief executive Paul Mason, Somerfield has undergone something of a renaissance of late, enjoying a bumper Christmas trading period. Accounts filed at Companies House last month show it posted a pre-tax profit of ?26.4m for the year to April 2007, against a loss of ?118.1m the year before.

Somerfield controls less than 4 per cent of Britain’s grocery market and has around 955 stores in its portfolio, 600 of which are convenience stores.

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