Carrefour falls back on doubts over emerging market retreat

Thu May 23, 2013 12:00pm EDT

* Shares down 5 pct, erasing Wednesday's gains

* Analysts say Middle East sale at a good price

* But some question pullback from growth markets

By Dominique Vidalon

PARIS, May 23 (Reuters) - Carrefour shares dropped over 5 percent on Thursday, reversing gains from the day before, amid concerns the world's No. 2 retailer is pulling out of too many high-growth markets after the surprise sale of a Middle Eastern venture.

The French group said on Wednesday it would make 530 million euros ($682 million) from the sale of its 25 percent stake in the venture to partner Majid Al Futtaim (MAF).

That would take total asset sales to 3.4 billion euros since the arrival of Chief Executive Georges Plassat in May 2012, as Carrefour looks to cut debt and focus on turning round its core European hypermarkets business.

Analysts said on Thursday the deal was struck at a reasonable price - a multiple of around 0.7 times 2012 sales and 13.5-13.8 times earnings - and it might make sense for Carrefour to focus on bigger emerging markets like Brazil and China.

But some questioned whether it was necessary.

The move "reduces its exposure to a region offering dynamic growth opportunities" over the medium and long-term, while Carrefour's "performance has been slow to improve" in a "deteriorating environment in Europe", Barclays analysts said.

Shares in the world's largest retailer after Wal-Mart closed down 5.1 percent, wiping out Wednesday's gains. The stock remains up 14 percent in the last five weeks.

Carrefour raised 2.8 billion euros last year, selling units in Indonesia, Colombia, and Malaysia. Last month it sold a 12 percent stake in its CarrefourSA venture in Turkey.

Plassat, who plans to invest 2.2-2.3 billion euros to renovate and expand stores in France, Brazil and China this year, told a news conference on March 7 there were no plans to exit more countries.

But the latest deal "proves that the current round of sell-offs at Carrefour is not over yet," Natixis analyst Pierre-Edouard Boudot said.

One retail sector analyst, who asked to remain anonymous, said the MAF deal was bound to relaunch speculation on the future of Carrefour's Italian and Polish businesses.

Tunisia, where Carrefour has a joint venture with the Utic group, Taiwan and Poland could be next on the list, PlanetRetail analyst Gildas Aitamer said.

Carrefour declined to comment on the MAF deal on Thursday.

MAF plans to keep and strengthen its strategic partnership with Carrefour in new countries and new formats and will keep its exclusive franchise partnership with the French group until 2025, Carrefour said on Wednesday.

"The upshot is that Carrefour can reduce its capital exposure, while at the same time preserving a presence in selected market places, plus bringing in revenues through franchise contracts," Natixis's Boudot said.

($1 = 0.7766 euros) (Editing by Mark Potter)