Asda’s owners, the billionaire Issa brothers, are examining a multi-billion pound swoop for pharmacy chain Boots as tightening debt markets may threaten to scupper a potential deal.
The Blackburn-based petrol station tycoons have held early-stage discussions over the possibility of adding Boots to their fast-expanding empire, the Mail on Sunday reported.
The race to snap up Boots and its 2,200 UK stores is heating up, with buyout giants Bain Capital and CVC Capital Partners also mulling a joint bid. The chain could be worth as much as £10bn.
However, a move for Boots by the Issas could potentially be complicated by rising borrowing costs as central banks push up interest rates in a bid to curb spiralling inflation.
Interest in a Boots bid comes after the Issas sealed a £6.8bn takeover of Asda fuelled by junk-rated debt in 2020.
They borrowed £3.5bn to finance the transaction and lumbered the supermarket with another £500m of debt following the collapse of plans to sell Asda’s petrol stations to EG Group, the brothers’ other company.
Walgreens Boots Alliance confirmed earlier this month it has launched a strategic review of the chemist chain. In December, Goldman Sachs was lined up as an adviser to explore options including a sale of Boots.
An auction of the Nottingham-based retailer is set to start in the coming weeks, with other grocery giants also expected to be interested in its vast network of stores.
Launching the review, Walgreens chief executive Rosalind Brewer said the process was still at an “exploratory stage” but that “we do expect to move quickly”.
She added: “This review is very much in line with our renewed priorities and strategic direction, in particular, our increased focus on US healthcare.”
Walgreens took a 45pc stake in Alliance Boots in 2012 and then bought the rest of the company in 2014.
The Issas declined to comment.