Midlands-based Punch Taverns is on the acquisition trail again, it was claimed yesterday.
City sources believe the country's second-largest pubs business has made an approach for Spirit Group that could value the rival operator at between £1-3 billion.
Talks are said to be at a preliminary stage and there is speculation that a Stock Exchange announcement could come as early as today.
Spirit is jointly owned by private equity firms Texas Pacific, Blackstone and CVC Capital, and investment bank Merrill Lynch.
In April, Punch chief executive Giles Thorley hinted that he would be interested in a deal in the event that Spirit opted to break itself up rather than pursue a planned initial public offering.
Punch, which is based in Burton-on-Trent, reported a 39 per cent rise in profits before tax, amortisation and exceptionals to £103 million in the half year to March 5, from turnover up 33 per cent to £404 million.
Pundits speculate that if Spirit is in play then possibly Birmingham-based Mitchells & Butlers may be interested.