Department store bubble set to burst

The department store consolidation merry-go-round could stop turning as bidders and analysts warn bargains are disappearing from the sector and buyers are overpaying.

Failed Selfridges suitor Tom Hunter said: 'There is a certain price we'll pay for things and we won't go above it. There's a sensible price to pay.'

A source close to the bidding parties said: '(Share) prices were reasonable, but they have moved away from consolidation. If you look at Debenhams - at that price I would be a seller not a buyer.'

The bid frenzy engulfing the sector took a surprise turn this week when Debenhams revealed a£1.5 billion bid from venture capitalist Permira.

Chief executive Belinda Earl and finance director Matthew Roberts are collaborating on the indicative proposal.

The likelihood of Selfridges falling into Canadian hands provided a sideshow as the board recommended Galen Weston's 387p a share offer, with offer documents expected to wing their way to shareholders this week.

Selfridges chief executive and vanquished suitor Peter Williams is expected to remain in post to pursue its existing strategy. 'They are familiar with what we are trying to do here and that is one of the reasons they wanted to buy,' he said.

- Editor's comment: page 11.