PARISCarrefour SA said Friday it will sell its Greek supermarket to its local partner and walk away from the country at a loss, offering concrete evidence of foreign investors severing ties with Greece amid a deeply contracting economy and political upheaval.
The announcement comes just two days ahead of pivotal elections that could prove decisive in whether Greece stays in the euro zone or not. A host of international companies have said they are preparing contingency plans for such a risk, with many voicing concerns about how to retrieve cash in the event of Greece leaving the 17-nation common currency.
For Carrefour, the decision to exit Greece represents a strategic shift under new chief executive Georges Plassat, who took over from Lars Olofsson last month with a mission to turn the struggling retailer around. Mr. Plassat is due to make his first public presentation as CEO to the annual shareholders meeting on Monday.
The French retailer said it would sell its 50% stake in its supermarket chain in Greece to the Marinopoulos family and take a mostly noncash charge of 220 million ($277.9 million), comprised largely of a write-down of its investment in Greece. Carrefour didn't disclose further details, notably on the cash component of the financial charge. Carrefour had already written down its Greek business by 188 million in 2011.
A banker for the Marinopoulos family, which will now fully own Carrefour Marinopoulos, said it has agreed to pay Carrefour a symbolic euro for the stake. Jean-Marc Forneri of Paris-based investment bank Bucéphale Finance, which advised the family on the deal, said the Greek buyer will invest 300 million in the stores.
A Carrefour spokeswoman said upon completion of the deal the company will no longer have any exposure to Greece, suggesting that any debt associated with the Greek supermarket business was transferred alongside the assets. Mr. Forneri declined to comment on whether the Greek family assumed any debt as part of the deal.
Carrefour said the sale of the stake will allow the Greek joint venture "to meet the challenges of Greece's prevailing economic environment." Carrefour added that the Marinopoulos family is firmly committed to Greece and is "best placed" to handle the supermarket chain "in the current context."
Carrefour's move represents an effort to cut ties with a country that it recently described as its sole loss-making market.
Though Greece contributes a small part of its overall revenue, the world's second-largest retailer after U.S. giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has over 800 stores in the country, along with its local partner, and is one of Greece's biggest private employers. Sales have plummeted in the country, now in its fifth year of recession, as the banking system reels from mounting bad loans, the economy nose dives and fears over an eventual exit from the euro zone shatter consumer confidence.
Mr. Forneri said negotiations between the two sides began a few weeks ago, shortly after Mr. Plassat joined Carrefour. Both sides reached agreement quickly as Carrefour wanted the deal to be ready for the shareholders meeting on Monday, he said.
While Mr. Plassat has yet to publicly outline his plans for the retailer, since his arrival at the company's helm Carrefour has announced a reorganization of its real-estate operations and late Thursday said it will expand in Argentina, where business is brisk. But for Mr. Plassat, rejigging its international business will only account for part of the battle to turn Carrefour around, as the difficulties facing the company's domestic marketwhere sales are stagnant and it is losing market shareare likely to be his greatest challenge.
Sales at Carrefour have slumped as consumers pinch pennies against the backdrop of Europe's sovereign debt crisis. Carrefour is also feeling the pressure as some consumers turn away from hypermarketssupercenters selling everything from baguettes to bicycleswhich are losing business to more conveniently located and price-competitive supermarkets.
Investors welcomed Carrefour's decision to leave Greece and increase its exposure to Argentina, where it plans to buy 129 stores in supermarket chain Eki. Carrefour shares ended Paris trading up 5.9% at 14.49.
"Leaving Greece is rather good news, given the plummeting commercial performance of the company in the country, but the cost of the exit is high and shows the company's difficulty in the region," said Aurel BGC analyst Jean-Marie L'Homé. He said the expansion in Argentina will strengthen the company's position in Buenos Aires, the capital, as it will be able to get synergies with the stores it already owns.
Besides buying the Greek unit, the Marinopoulos family secured the exclusive franchise rights of Carrefour for Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Albania and other Balkan countries. The transaction will be completed in the coming weeks, providing antitrust authorities approve it, Carrefour said.
Hehe. Every day, we hear numerous companies and large-scale investments leaving Greece en mass. They're so frustrated with the utterly corrupt, lazy, incompetent Grikos that now even their # 1 allies, the French, are giving up on any hope and getting the fvck out of Greece despite having to sell their assets at a loss.
Money is now escaping Greece like the Griks used to escape their Turkish invaders. FAAAST! Greece's complete financial meltdown is only a matter of time. Total collapse of the Grik society is a natural consequence, and unfortunately imminent.
East, West, North, South... Too bad Turkey's neighbors are total fvcking FAILS whichever direction you look. But we'll continue to shine like a beacon of hope in our region.