Supermarket chain Morrisons has dismissed speculation over its future in the Northern Ireland market.
Rumours have persisted that Asda was to buy the NI stores
It follows reports Asda, the US-owned chain, was believed to be on the verge of signing a deal to take over the 13 former Safeway stores in the province.
These shops are currently owned by the Bradford-based Morrisons group, which acquired Safeway in March last year.
The group said: "It is very much business as usual for Safeway stores in Northern Ireland."
On Friday, a spokesperson for Morrisons said: "Following the recent media speculation, that ASDA is on the verge of purchasing the 13 Safeway stores in Northern Ireland, Morrisons Plc is stating that this information is incorrect."
In a separate statement, Asda said: "This is speculation and we don't comment on market speculation."
However, BBC Northern Ireland business editor James Kerr said he understood the two firms were close to reaching a deal.
Rumours have persisted about a sale to Asda, which is owned by the world's largest retailer, US firm Wal-Mart, and has a reputation for cutting costs and prices.