Private equity firms CVC, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Blackstone said today they were in the early stages of assessing a possible bid for supermarket group Sainsbury’s

Shares in the UK’s third-biggest supermarket owner leapt as much as 18% to an eight-year high of 526.5p this morning, which valued the company at £9.7bn.

‘No decision has been made regarding the relative merits of an offer and as a consequence there can be no assurance that any offer for Sainsbury will be forthcoming,’ the private equity firms said in a joint statement.

Shares in rivals Tesco and WM Morrison also rose sharply as investors re-evaluated the sector and some analysts speculated that the bid momentum could flood into other sectors.

The takeover talk was given a boost yesterday when Sainsbury’s disclosed that the Sainsbury family trust had sold 40m shares, cutting its stake to 13.9%.

And in a research note out this week Numis Securities analyst Steve Davies said: ‘We think it highly likely that property and/or financial investors are running the slide rule over Sainsbury’s’ (cityview, 02.02.2007)

Davies estimates that Sainsbury’s is not much higher than the value of its freehold properties, which he reckons is as high as £8.5bn, assuming a yield of 4.5%.