Supermarket Morrisons has confirmed it is in discussions with the stock market’s Takeover Panel to launch an auction process for the chain.
Bosses hope to bring to an end the three-month battle for the business between two private equity firms, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice (CD&R) and Fortress.
Morrisons said that, on the basis that neither bidder has declared their offer final, “such that either offer may be further increased or otherwise revised, a competitive situation continues to exist”.
As a result, the company has started talking with the Takeover Panel and the bidders “in order to begin discussions around an orderly framework for the resolution of this competitive situation”.
An announcement by the Takeover Panel is expected shortly, with a date for later this month expected to be set when any bidders must make their offers final.
Shareholders will vote on the deal in or around the week of October 18, the supermarket added.
Bosses continued to stress that any bidder must uphold the group’s values.
The supermarket said: “In addition to the financial terms of any offer, the Morrisons board continues to place very significant emphasis on the wider responsibilities of ownership of Morrisons.
“These responsibilities include a recognition of the importance to the Morrisons business of all stakeholders, including colleagues, customers, pension trustees and suppliers as well as the distinct heritage and history of Morrisons and the legacy of Sir Ken Morrison.”
The takeover process started in June with CD&R making a £5.5 billion bid for the business.
This was followed by a bid of £6.7 billion by Fortress and a counter bid of £7 billion from CD&R.
Fortress said it “continues to consider its options” but has not made a further announcement.
Morrisons shareholders appear to believe a new bid could be on its way, with shares trading above 290p despite CD&R’s offer standing at 285p-a-share.