Several private equity groups are said to be plotting bids for Punch Taverns, according to reports.
The Daily Mail reports that CVC, which was rumoured to be considering a bid two years ago, is in talks with Punch's advisor Goldman Sachs about a bid for the leased estate.
The paper also reports that TPG Capital, formerly Texas Pacific Group and a former investor in Punch before it floated in 2002, is also said to be in talks about a bid for some of the leased estate.
There is also speculaltion that TDR Capital, which recently bought 333 pubs from Mitchells & Butlers to be run under Stonegate Pub Company, is interested in the 835 managed pubs.
City sources say that Apax Partners, Bridgehouse Capital, Charterhouse Capital Partners and Cinven are also interested in Punch, according to the Daily Mail.
Last week, Punch Taverns fired a warning shot to bondholders that it may hand back the keys to 5,000-plus leased pubs, unless they offer flexibility on debt repayment.
The company's two leased securitisations stand to become a cash drain on the company of around £40m a year next August; they are broadly cash neutral at the moment.
The company is reported to have appointed bank Goldman Sachs and asset management firm Blackstone to advise on its options, which include a "default" on its lease securitisations as well as persuading securitisation bondholders to re-schedule the existing debt structure.
Punch chief executive Ian Dyson is undertaking a strategic review due to be made public in January.
Punch declined to comment.