The long-running Safeway takeover saga may have entered its final phase Monday as the wheel turned full-circle on negotiations that first hit the headlines on January 9.

William Morrison, the Bradford-headquartered supermarket group whose power base extends from northern England and Scotland to a handful of outposts elsewhere in the UK, has reached agreement with Safeway to acquire its business for marginally less than £3 billion ($5.24bn; €4.27bn).

The agreed offer of £2.83 per share plus £0.60 in cash is slightly higher than the earlier deal -- abandoned after the intervention of Wal-Mart's British unit Asda and others, causing the issue to be referred to the Competition Commission.

The done deal effectively spurns last week's £2 billion tactical spoiling offer from Asda [WAMN: 11-Dec-03].

Shareholders in Safeway, which is unconnected with the US grocery group of the same name and by far the smallest of the UK's big four supermarketeers, will be left with forty per cent of the combined company. The reins will be firmly held by Morrison's investors with a controlling 60%.

After fifty-five store disposals ordered by the Competition Commission, the combined company will be left with 552 outlets across the UK and annual sales of some £13bn.

Morrison's expects the formalities to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2004.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff