MORRISONS is poised to be bought by a US-based private equity giant after a dramatic £7billion auction.
Clayton, Dubilier & Rice offered 287p per ordinary share — beating a rival 286p bid worth a total £6.7billion.
Both sides have attempted to ward off suggestions they will start selling off vast swathes of the company’s sites.
Supermarkets typically lease their properties but Morrisons still owns around 90 per cent of its estate.
The takeover saga has dragged on since CD&R first made an approach for the supermarket chain in June — sparking speculation the sector was ripe for private equity takeovers.
Following the initial bid, Softbank-backed US finance company Fortress made an offer of £6.3billion in July.
But shareholders felt this was too low. Fortress, which owns Majestic Wines, returned with an increased offer of £6.7billion in August and the board accepted.
Later that month CD&R, which boasts former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy as an adviser, returned with an increased bid of £7billion.
This led to the board withdrawing its support for the Fortress bid and throwing its weight behind the higher offer.
But because neither side made a formal bid, the Takeover Panel launched an auction process.
Both sides agreed beforehand that all bids would be at a fixed cash price and could not include stakes in other businesses or dividends to shareholders.
The final offer for the supermarket will now be voted on by shareholders on October 19.
Morrisons’ pension trustees will have to be consulted, although earlier this month they said an agreement had been reached with CD&R.
There have also been concerns that any new owner may try to reduce the supermarket’s tax bill by setting up off-shore shell companies.
Morrisons is Britain’s fourth-biggest supermarket by market share behind Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda.
Based in Bradford, it began in 1899 as an egg and butter merchant.