* Thai billionaire teams up with Carlyle for ParkNShop bid
* Australia's Woolworths also bidding for ParkNShop
* CRE took Ng Fung Hong private in 2001 for $662 mln
By Denny Thomas and Stephen Aldred
HONG KONG, Oct 8 China Resources Enterprise Ltd
is set to launch a strategic review of its Hong Kong
meat distribution unit, a person familiar with the matter said,
as it readies funds to bid for tycoon Li Ka-shing's ParkNShop
Li's Hutchison Whampao Ltd has put Hong Kong's
dominant supermarket business up for sale, asking for $3-4
billion. The operator of China's second-largest supermarket
chain has said it is interested in ParkNShop and discussed
selling non-core units to fund future acquisitions without
mentioning specific assets.
State-backed CRE has long been seen as one of the
frontrunners in the auction and a successful bid would give it
control of more than half of Hong Kong's $6.6 billion
supermarket industry as well as a brand name considered more
trustworthy than mainland China brands.
The list of suitors for ParkNShop include Thailand's CP
Group, controlled by billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont, which has
teamed up with Carlyle Group, people familiar with the
process have told Reuters.
Australia's biggest supermarket operator Woolworths Ltd
and Japan's Aeon Co Ltd have also expressed
interest, sources have previously said.
There is, however, still a significant gap between the
seller's expectations and what suitors are willing to offer,
people familiar with the matter said. The CP Group-Carlyle Group
consortium has made the highest offer, one person said.
The people declined to be identified as the discussions are
CRE has yet to decide whether to sell beef supplier Ng Fung
Hong, one person said, which it took private in 2000 valuing the
company at HK$5.13 billion ($662 million).
Bloomberg first reported CRE's review of its meat unit on
CRE, CP Group and Carlyle declined to comment.
The Chinese supermarket chain has been expanding in food and
other retail operations. In beer, CRE has a joint venture with
SABMiller Plc and in beverages, it has tied up with
Japan's Kirin Holdings Ltd. It also recently formed a
joint venture with British retailer Tesco Plc.