Punch Taverns and Mitchells & Butler may join forces to mount a £2.5bn bid for rival Spirit Group. Chief executives Tim Clarke and Giles Thorley have been holding detailed talks which are described as "fluid". But City regulators could now ask both companies to clarify their intentions to the stock market. It is thought that Punch would take the lion's share of the 2,000 pub estate while M&B would be interested in about 500 sites, particularly food-led brands like Chef & Brewer. Enterprise Inns and Wolverhampton & Dudley are also watching events closely. And it is possible that Punch or M&B could still switch camps to team up with other bidders. The Sunday Times 11/09/05 (Business) page 3.1