© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The logo of French retailer Carrefour on shopping trolleys in Sao Paulo
By Noor Zainab Hussain and Allison Lampert
MONTREAL (Reuters) – Alimentation Couche-Tard would revive its $ 20 billion offer to France Carrefour (PA 🙂 If the Canadian convenience store operator saw a change in the French government's stance on the proposed deal, its managing director said on Monday.
Couche-Tard dropped its surprise offer for the European retailer over the weekend after the plan was rejected by the French government. Some French politicians said the problem was a national food safety issue.
"We would like to go ahead with the transaction … if we received signals that the environment could or would change from the French government or other key stakeholders," Brian Hannasch told an analyst call.
The news from Couche-Tard, which operates convenience outlets and petrol stations, came to light only last week, but was quickly unraveled in the face of opposition from French politicians, including Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.
After a deal was effectively blocked, the companies said they decided instead to look into ways of sharing fuel buying practices, partnering with private labels, and selling on overlapping networks.
"This is a better approach. We are not losing control or food safety and are opening up partnerships that can be fruitful for both Carrefour and his Canadian colleague," French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told RTL Radio.
Despite its rejection of Couche-Tard's takeover of Carrefour, France remained open to foreign investment and remained "the most attractive country in Europe for foreign investment," he added.
The Carrefour share closed on Monday in Paris by 8.9% to 15.46 euros, as the prospect of an offer of 20 euros per share had at least for the time being evaporated. Couche Tard shares were up 3.4%.
"In political terms, we went into it with open eyes because we knew that this was a risk, and I am sure that the pandemic has exacerbated the problem of food security, especially in France," said Hannasch.
"And it is difficult to say whether that will change over time."
Hannasch also Couche-Tard saw "enormous" growth opportunities in Asia.
Couche-Tard entered the Asian market in November to purchase the Hong Kong unit of Convenience Retail Asia Ltd for HKD 2.79 billion (US $ 359.85 million).
In a notice to customers on Monday, Bryan, retail analyst Clément Genelot of Garnier & Co, accused France's 2022 presidential election as "a real obstacle to business" amid fears that the country's leading private employer would sell extreme right-wing opposition to the country could strengthen incumbent Emmanuel Macron.
Carrefour employs 105,000 people in France and operates around 8,000 convenience stores as well as traditional hypermarkets and supermarkets.
A top ten Couche-Tard shareholder, already skeptical of the merits of working with a grocer, said the company will have questions about moving away from its core business.
"I think that in the meantime there will still be some form of overhang or discount that I think will be applied to equity just because there is concern that the management team has started to move outside their area of competence," he said on condition of anonymity.
Analysts at investment bank Citi said there was still the possibility that Carrefour and Couche-Tard could revive the talks at a later date, while Carrefour and domestic rival Casino continued to have an option to consider a merger agreement.
($ 1 = 7.7532 Hong Kong dollars)