Morrison, the supermarket group, today followed rival Sainsbury’s in ruling out a sell-off of its property portfolio

In a statement released ahead of the group’s annual meeting, chairman Sir Ken Morrison said it was ‘essential’ that the group retained ownership of its freehold property portfolio.

‘Currently the majority of our estate is freehold, which provides us with a considerable degree of operational flexibility and we believe that owning our own properties is essential, if we are to remain competitive and deliver sustainable growth in the business,’ said Morrison.

Earlier this month Sainsbury’s chairman Sir Philip Hampton made a similar pledge in the wake of pressure from one of its biggest shareholders, Robert Tchenguiz, to separate its operating business from its property portfolio.

Nearly 90% of Morrison’s stores are freehold. Morrison plans to invest £450m over the next three years on a modernisation programme and open an additional 1m sq ft of space.

Morrison said first-quarter sales were up 3.1%. It is forecast to make a profit before tax and one-off items of £444m for the year to 31 January, up from £331m last year.