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Arthur T. Demoulas offers $1.5 billion for Market Basket

Arthur T. Demoulas’s $1.5b offer could lead to a deal by Sunday, Patrick and Hassan say

The end of the Market Basket saga appeared within reach late Friday after Arthur T. Demoulas offered to pay more than $1.5 billion to take control of the embattled company, and the governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire expressed optimism an agreement was imminent.

The flurry of developments provided the first hope that warring members of the Demoulas family might be able to rescue the multibillion-dollar supermarket company wracked by employee walkouts and customer boycotts.

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Although Arthur S. Demoulas did not respond publicly to the bid Friday, Governor Deval Patrick and Governor Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire said they had spoken with both sides and that a deal could be reached by Sunday.

“All parties report that they are optimistic that an agreement will be reached to sell the company to Arthur T. Demoulas and to restore him to operating authority on an interim basis until the sale closes,” a statement issued by Patrick and Hassan said. “We are hopeful that employees will return to work, and the stores will reopen, early next week.”

Arthur T.’s offer, outlined for the Globe by his advisers on Friday, removed a key stumbling block by providing a letter from a private equity firm prepared to lend more than $500 million to help buy the remaining half of the company. The identity of the firm was not disclosed.

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That money would replace seller financing that previously would have been provided by Arthur S. and other opposing relatives to help make the deal work. The rest of the $1.5 billion would come from a cash payment by Arthur T. and his sisters, as well as a mortgage loan secured by the supermarket company’s real estate, his advisers said.

“It’s time to complete this deal so we can all go back to doing what we love doing, and that’s running Market Basket,” Arthur T. Demoulas told the Globe on Friday. He added later in a statement that “there is nothing that stands in the way of getting this done this weekend.”

Neither the board nor Arthur S. Demoulas publicly commented Friday night. A person briefed on the board’s deliberations said a “constructive dialogue is underway’’ over the offer.

If an agreement is not reached soon, the financial consequences could be catastrophic for the supermarket chain. The company, losing millions of dollars a day, faces the prospect of closing stores and terminating many of its 25,000 employees in New England.

Market Basket’s board of directors had been scheduled to meet Saturday, but the gathering was postponed after Arthur T. submitted his latest offer. The delay would give the Demoulas family more time to finalize the details of an agreement.

The statement by the governors indicated that the parties were trying to draft an accord by Sunday that would “forestall taking adverse employment action against the employees who have abandoned their jobs.”

Current and former employees themselves remained skeptical.

“How many deadlines have come and gone?” said Tom Trainor, one of eight fired Market Basket employees who has led protests demanding the reinstatement of Arthur T. “It’s like an emotional roller coaster. It’s good news, then it’s bad news. They’re close to a deal, then nothing.”

Another long-time manager, John Garon, said, “As soon as we hear officially that Artie T. is in control of the company, we’ll be able to sleep at night.”

So far, the board has said only that it has multiple suitors for the chain, although it is unclear how many parties submitted formal offers to buy it. In recent days, Delhaize Group SA, the parent of Hannaford supermarkets, continued to express interest in buying Market Basket and has spoken to Arthur T. about having him manage the chain if it succeeds.

Arthur T.’s offer is based on a $3 billion-plus valuation of the 71-store grocery chain, which is roughly what industry experts said it was worth before the recent turmoil. He is trying to buy the 50.5 percent of the company owned by Arthur S. Demoulas and other relatives.

The bid would require Arthur T. to shoulder substantial borrowing costs. That could mean higher prices for customers or lower pay for employees. But an industry expert said Demoulas is more likely to search for cuts in profits distributed to shareholders in the form of dividends, rather than tinker with Market Basket’s business model.

“It’s likely to come from shareholder distribution,” said Kevin Griffin, the Duxbury-based publisher of the Griffin Report on Food Marketing. “It’s likely to come from capital expenditures, which might be put on hold for a little bit.”

The grocery chain has been paralyzed by an employee walkout that has prevented fresh food from getting to its supermarkets. Many customers in recent weeks have stopped shopping at Market Basket, either because of the food shortage or because they want to support the protesting workers.

Several vendors also announced this week that they were breaking ties with Market Basket, citing payment problems or because of their support for Arthur T.

The crisis began in late June when Arthur T. was fired as Market Basket president by the company’s board, which is controlled by Arthur S. The two Demoulas cousins have been fighting about ownership and management of the company for more than two decades.

Negotiations for the sale have been extremely contentious, with the parties divided over the terms and financing of the deal, as well as when and under what conditions Arthur T. would return. Earlier this week, the two sides promised the two governors they would make an all-out effort to reach an agreement by Friday.

The Demoulas family has been fighting about the company since the 1990s, when Arthur S. and other relatives of the family won a protracted legal battle that gave them a slight majority ownership of the grocery chain. However, the ruling kept the company’s ownership and management evenly divided between two factions of the family that have continued fighting over it.

Despite the family feud, the company has prospered in recent years, earning more than $200 million in profit on annual revenue of more than $4 billion, according to company documents. The recent standoff has not only affected the employees, but hundreds of growers and food vendors, as well as businesses that occupy commercial space adjacent to Market Basket stores.

Globe Correspondent Jack Newsham contributed. Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.
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