Morrisons triumphs after lengthy Safeway inquiry

Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco must make do with the leftovers of Safeway after Morrisons was given the green light to bid for the number four grocer.

But Morrisons was told by the Competition Commission that it must dispose of 53 Safeway stores. The other three grocers were all blocked from bidding for the whole of Safeway and, in order to maintain local competition, have been told which of the 53 outlets they may bid for.

According to broker JP Morgan, the maximum number of stores that Sainsbury's can acquire is 27, Tesco 26 and Asda 19.

The OFT will regulate the divestment process and Morrisons was due to begin talks on the matter with the watchdog as Retail Week went to press.

The OFT will commission an independent valuation of the shops, which Safeway believes to be worth up to£600 million.

Patricia Hewitt, who rubber-stamped the Competition Commission's findings, said: 'The proposed acquisition of Safeway by Morrisons may be expected to operate against the public interest, but store divestments where local competition concerns arise are sufficient to remedy the adverse effects identified.'

Morrisons is about to begin a fresh round of due diligence on Safeway that will influence the value of its offer.

Philip Green - the only interested party not to be referred to the Competition Commission earlier this year - is understood to be reviewing his options on Safeway.

It is likely that he will wait and see what Morrisons puts on the table before making any move.

- Leader: page 11.