Yesterday American private equity giant Clayton Dubilier & Rice narrowly beat out rival Fortress at the auction for Morrisons, ending four months of takeover speculation. CDR’s winning bid was worth just over £7billion or 287p per share, just a penny higher than Fortress’s losing bid. Shop workers union Usdaw said that it wants urgent talks with both the management of Morrisons and CDR as it wants to ensure that both jobs and the business are protected. Morrisons employs around 110,000 across the country in its stores, supply chain, farms and transport network.
A spokesman said: “We’ll be seeing meetings with new owners and Morrisons as we want assurances on jobs and to continue our relationship with the company.”
Unions and retail experts fear that jobs could be lost and parts of the Morrisons business mortgaged, sold off or both. That is because CDR is set to significantly increase Morrisons’s debt burden at a time when it its locked in a cut throat price battle with rivals Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and German discounters Aldi and Lidl.
Although it is putting up £3.4billion of its own money to fund the acquisition of Morrisons, CDR will be borrowing the rest from four investment banks.
Once shareholders approve the sale of Morrisons at a vote on October 19, CDR will move to refinance its £3.6billion bank debt by selling high interest paying IOUs or junk bonds to City investors. It will then transfer responsibility for those junk bonds to Morrisons, at a stoke more than doubling its net debt to £6.6billion.
Experts add that of the major attractions of Morrisons for CDR is that it owns 87 percent of the freeholds to its properties. Selling off said properties and then leasing them back could be used to fund a huge payday for CDR, they say.
CDR’s bid was led by former Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy and it has promised to invest in Morrisons. A spokesman said that it is pleased to have won the auction and that it looks forward to working with the Morrisons management team.
Under chief executive Dave Potts, Morrisons has fought back from years of falling sales, profits and market share. It is the UK’s fourth largest supermarket and has 9.8 percent of the market.
Joshua Pack, managing partner of Fortress, said: “Morrisons is an outstanding business and we wish the company and all those involved with it the very best for the future.”