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NEWS UPDATES 9 July 2010

Business as usual, says Carrefour

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Carrefour Thailand executives insisted yesterday that it was still business as usual for the French retail chain in Thailand But they admitted any plans to divest local operations would depend on the French parent, said Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot, who spoke on the telephone with Eric Uzan, chief executive of CenCar Co, the local operator, the Bangkok Post reports.

The government was committed to persuading Carrefour to retain its investment in Thailand and poised to help if asked, Mr. Alongkorn said after meeting yesterday with the French Chamber of Commerce to discuss a planned Franco-Thai Business Forum in September in Paris.

Carrefour is considering offloading its underperforming operations in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. It has approached potential buyers and may seek bids by early September, sources said.

Carrefour has exited Japan and South Korea in recent years to focus on fast-growing India, China and Indonesia.

Carrefour first opened in Thailand in 1996 and has 38 locations. Sources value the Thai business at $500-600 million.

Saha Pathanapibul Plc, the SET-listed arm of Thailand's biggest consumer products conglomerate, said it was approached by Carrefour. Chairman Boonchai Chokwatana said the company was studying details of the French company's plan.

UK-based Tesco, the hypermarket leader in Thailand, is said to be among the big operators interested in Carrefour.

Finansia Syrus Securities said SET-listed Big C Supercenter Plc and the trading company Berli Jucker Plc (BJC) may also be in the hunt. Big C probably has an edge given its high cash flow, it said.

BJC shares rose 9 percent yesterday on the Stock Exchange of Thailand on speculation about its interest. BJC's major shareholder with 70.63% is the TCC Group, controlled by liquor tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, Thailand's second-richest man. Soammaphat Traisorat, the son-in-law of Mr Charoen, said he did not know any details but said that any such deal could bring synergy to TCC's business.

Another local industry source said Big C and Tesco Lotus were interested. ''It should be Big C more than Tesco Lotus as Tesco has many stores located face-to-face to Carrefour such as on Rama IV Road. If Big C can successfully buy the Carrefour operation, its hypermarket business here will expand greatly,'' he said. However, if Carrefour favours Tesco, the UK giant may buy just some branches from Carrefour in areas where it doesn't have a presence.

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