The £450 m auction for the Laurel Pub Company attracted four bids last Friday, according to sources close to the matter. All four bids came from rival pubs groups.

The four bids came from Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries, Greene King, Punch Taverns and private equity owned managed pubs group Spirit, for the 432 Laurel community-managed pubs on offer, they added.

Laurel, owned by Deutsche Bank's private equity arm, decided earlier this year to sell its community pubs to focus on its 177 town centre outlets after the group failed in its attempt to buy Scottish & Newcastle's pubs late last year. The group had set a deadline of 1700 local time (1600 GMT) for final bids to be submitted. It hoped to complete the sale by the end of this month in an auction being handled by investment bank Rothschild.

Some sources have put W&D as the front-runner in the auction, but others said it was too early to tip a favourite.