France’s Carrefour free to focus on home market after retreat from China
10 July 2019
Source: by Mathieu Rosemain and Dominique Vidalon for Thomson Reuters, June 24
Shares in France's Carrefour rose on Monday after it became the latest Western retailer to retreat from the Chinese market as fierce competition from domestic rivals and a growing online market puts pressure on foreign firms.
The pullback allows Europe's largest retailer to focus its revival efforts on its home market, where it is under intense competitive pressure from traditional rivals and from Amazon.com Inc.
Investors welcomed a long-awaited all-cash deal struck at what analysts said was a good enough price in view of Carrefour's falling sales and operating losses in China.
Carrefour, which has been in China since 1995, agreed to sell 80% of its Chinese operations to electronics retailer Suning.com for 620 million euros (554 million pounds).
Carrefour follows other big-name Western retailers such as Tesco Plc and Walmart Inc, which have sold stakes to domestic partners, and Amazon which plans to shut its online store in China next month.
German wholesaler Metro AG, which has 93 stores in China, is also looking to sell its China unit amid a wider company restructuring, people directly involved in the matter have told Reuters.
A source told Reuters that Suning had been interested in both Metro and Carrefour China businesses, compared the two, and found Carrefour China cheaper.
A deal could see Metro's China business valued at $1.5-$2 billion, Reuters previously reported.
Carrefour, led by Chief Executive Alexandre Bompard since 2017, has spent years trying to fix its business in China where its 2018 sales fell by 5.9% and its operating loss was 32 million euros.
The agreement with Suning values Carrefour's China operation, including debt, at 1.4 billion euros ($1.6 billion), with options to sell the remaining 20% stake.
Carrefour will keep two out of seven seats on the board of Carrefour China. The Carrefour brand will be kept for at least 4.5 years after completion of the deal.
By 1205 GMT, Carrefour shares were up 1.1% at 17.19 euros, after opening up 2.5 percent.
Carrefour China, which operates 210 hypermarkets and 24 convenience stores, had net sales of 3.6 billion euros and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of 66 million euros in 2018.
A 1.4 billion euros enterprise value would value the business at multiples of 21 times EBITDA, which was "very good", Bernstein analysts wrote.
"This is a good move by Carrefour allowing them to focus on their core French business, whilst keeping a stake in the Chinese business, keeping some visibility on what is happening in the fastest moving grocery market," Bernstein added.
They expected "a 3-4% earnings upgrade from the removal of China losses and lower interest charges"
Carrefour which faces pressure in France from traditional rivals like Leclerc and from Amazon, is in the midst of a five-year restructuring plan to boost group sales and profits.
"China was the one part of Carrrefour's portfolio where strategic value deviated considerably from earnings contribution. Upside from here will be determined by French operational progress," Jefferies analysts said in a note.