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Reuters reports that UK antitrust regulators are expected to order an investigation into all five of the companies bidding to acquire Safeway Plc. Once this happens, in all likelihood it will take three months for any conclusion to be reached in the takeover battle, which at this point involves Tesco, Sainsbury, Wal-Mart, William Morrison Supermarkets, and entrepreneur Philip Green.

The reason the UK’s Competition Commission is expected to get the referral from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) because the acquisition -- no matter which company makes it -- will reshape the UK’s supermarket industry, affecting retailers, manufacturers and consumers.

Meanwhile, Reuters also is reporting that Wal-Mart has talked to a number of major Safeway Plc shareholders about acquiring their stakes in the company for a premium price. According to reports, Wal-Mart may be blocked from making the purchase once an investigation by the Competition Commission is ordered.

There remains, apparently, an outside shot that Morrison and Green could be exempted from an investigation because they are smaller than Safeway and would not create the same anti-trust issues with a purchase of the company. Safeway has been supportive of the Morrison bid.
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