After the investment company of Nicolas Berggruen recently acquired Karstadt, which has just launched a e-commerce operation, another investment firm, Signa, is said to be in the running of take over its major rival, Kaufhof.

However, Metro stressed last week that it is in no hurry to sell its department store chain, and that it is discussing its sales with other candidates. Berggruen himself has made an offer, but Metro says it is not taking it seriously at this stage.

Aside from its 134 department stores and its ownership of Inno in Belgium, Kaufhof is one of the biggest sporting goods retailers in Germany, notably through its 13 big Kaufhof Sportarena stores, but it has been losing money. Its total sales declined by 4 percent to €2.1 billion in the first nine months of the year, but Metro's management attributes this chiefly to unseasonable weather conditions this past summer.

According to the latest reports, Signa is discussing the possible acquisition of Kaufhof at a price said to be in a range of €2 billion to €2.4 billion. German shoppers, whose tax payments are being used by the German government to help bail Greece out of its deep financial crisis, find it interesting that a Greek billionaire, George Economou, reportedly owns 50 percent of Signa.

The 57-year-old entrepreneur is an avid art collector as well as chairman and president of Dryships, the largest dry bulk shipping company listed on a U.S. stock exchange. Signa already owns real estate worth about €1 billion in Germany. Wendeling Wiedeking, former owner of Porsche, is said to be one of its other shareholders.

A decision on the Greek bid is expected before Christmas. Metro had previously considered a possible flotation of Kaufhof on the stock market and its possible sale to El Corte Inglés, the Spanish department store chain, which is also the second-largest sporting goods retailer in its home country.