Retail impresario Philip Green and his business partner Allan Leighton are reported to be on the verge of making a £3.2bn (US$5.2bn) cash bid for UK supermarket group Safeway. However, new evaluations of the group’s assets have upped the stakes in the battle to buy the chain.

The Sunday Telegraph said that Green and Leighton have scheduled a meeting with the Office of Fair Trading for this week, and are expected to make the £3.2bn bid within the coming ten days. The paper further reported that Green has lined up three candidates for the role of CEO of Safeway, and is prepared to pay at least 300p per share.

A bid from Green is unlikely to be referred to the competition authorities, as he currently has no interests in the UK food sector. Green reflected a widespread sentiment in the UK food-retailing arena when he told the newspaper: "Safeway is a one-off opportunity. It is never going to be available again."

At the tail end of last week, meanwhile, Safeway considerably upped the stakes when it announced that its property assets were worth more than it had been believed. Safeway claimed a new, independent, valuation of its stores enhanced the group’s net book value by £1.94bn. This would value it at £6.03bn, a marked increase on the £4.08bn on its books. Pundits interpret this as a sign that Safeway hopes the various potential bidders circling the group will beef up their offers towards the 400p per share mark.

The new valuation could price some of the potential players out of the market. BBC Online reported that Sainsbury, the UK’s second largest supermarket group, is mulling an alliance with Morrisons in a bid to prevent well-funded Wal-Mart subsidiary Asda walking away with the main prize. In that event, Sainsbury’s would expect to acquire certain stores from Morrisons, to the value of the cash it added to the latter group’s all-shares bid.