Woolworths will launch a closing down sale today, clearing stock at large discounts after potential bidders for the 99-year-old chain failed to submit firm offers.

Deloitte, administrator to the retailer, said it was still trying to sell the business as a going concern but people involved with the process acknowledged that would-be buyers were struggling to fund their proposals.

Staff were told yesterday afternoon that they could be made redundant if no buyer was found in the next fortnight. Woolworths employs about 30,000 people. 'If no offers for the Woolworths business are forthcoming, then it is possible that some stores may close before the end of December,' said Deloitte.

Financial Times, Daily Telegraph