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Israel's two leading supermarket chains, Supersol and Blue Square, are interested in jointly purchasing the failed Clubmarket chain and dividing its stores between them, sources involved in preparing the bid said.

As a first step, the two have asked Antitrust Commissioner Dror Strum to allow them to submit a joint bid to Clubmarket's trustees, who published an invitation for offers to acquire the chain yesterday.

Strum, who has made it clear in the past that he would prefer Clubmarket to be purchased by a third party and continue to operate as an independent chain competing against Supersol and Blue Square, is apparently reserving his response until he sees what kind of interest other buyers express in the chain. If no one can be found to purchase the chain in its entirety, he is expected to approve the sale of its stores to one or both of the two major chains.

Sources at Supersol and Blue Square said yesterday that both companies would prefer to purchase about half of Clubmarket's stores apiece instead of having to purchase the entire chain. The idea is that each would purchase half of the chain's profitable stores and half of its loss-making stores, with the exact division being coordinated with the Antitrust Authority to ensure that fair competition between the two chains is maintained in each locality. For example, if one town had a Blue Square but no Supersol, the Clubmarket store in that town would go to Supersol rather than Blue Square.

In addition to the Supersol-Blue Square consortium, Clubmarket's suppliers are also considering making a bid, in conjunction with Bank Leumi. The main purpose of this bid is to prevent a situation in which the chain is sold for such a low price that its creditors cannot recover the monies owed them.

In addition, Clubmarket's current owner, the Borovich-Mozes-Rosen group, still hopes to retain control of the chain if they can find a new investor willing to put up the necessary cash.

The solicitation of bids published yesterday by Clubmarket's trustees, accountant Gabriel Trabelsi and attorney Shlomo Ness, invites offers to purchase either the whole chain or just a part. The trustees said that preference will be given to offers to purchase the chain as a whole. The invitation also said that the trustees retain the right to apportion part of the shares to the company's creditors or even to offer the shares for sale on the stock exchange.

The trustees will make a roomful of information available to interested buyers and will charge NIS 15,000 for a visit to this room, which will begin operations on August 2. Offers to purchase the chain will have to be submitted by August 16 and bidders will be required to arrange bank guarantees of NIS 30 million, which will be used by the trustees if the purchaser does not honor the terms of his offer within four months.

The trustees also said that Strum has informed them that he would prefer a buyer that is not an Israel-based retail chain, should such a buyer make a reasonable offer.

However, sources in the supermarket industry yesterday cast doubt on the idea that it is possible to operate Clubmarket as an independent, profitable chain. Too many of its stores suffer from poor location, and the fact that most of its stores are rented rather than owned also constitutes a serious weakness, they said.