Alliance Boots is understood to have lost out in Sweden’s auction of part of its state-owned Apoteket pharmacy chain.

Financial investors such as Nordic-focused buy-out funds Altor and Segulah scooped up almost two-thirds of the available stores.

Altor partner Fredrik Stromholm, who won the biggest nationwide cluster of 208 Apoteket shops, said private equity groups may have found funding easier than rival bidders. He told the Financial Times: “Some of the industrial parties have headaches in other markets that could have limited their ability to raise financing.”

Apoteket has held a monopoly on pharmaceutical sales since 1970. It was one of several assets earmarked for sale by the centre-right government after its 2006 election on a platform of cutting state influence in the economy.

It is understood that Alliance Boots - which owns the Boots UK chain - is interested in the Swedish market, but it is not a priority for the group.