Itochu to take Uny stake to help China expansion

TOKYO, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Japanese trading house Itochu Corp 8001.T said on Thursday it would take a 3 percent stake in retailer Uny Co Ltd 8270.T, with which it plans to team up in opening stores in China.

Major Japanese retailing groups including industry leader Seven & I 3382.T and No.2 Aeon Co Ltd 8267.T are increasingly looking to China and other rapidly growing Asian markets as they face weak growth prospects at home due to an ageing population.

Itochu and other trading houses, which handle goods ranging from commodities to aerospace, are expanding their presence in the retail sector, offering their global reach to help store chains enter overseas markets.

Itochu has a 20 percent stake in Chinese food processing company Ting Hsin, which owns instant noodle and beverage maker Tingyi Holdings 0322.HK.

Uny, which runs supermarkets and convenience store chain Circle K Sunkus 3337.T, plans to open about 10 supermarkets in China in the near future, company President Tetsuro Maemura told a news conference.

Trading houses’ growing equity involvement with retailers has fuelled speculation they may become driving forces for retail sector consolidation.

Last year, trading house Mitsubishi Corp 8058.T said it would take a 5 percent stake in Aeon as part of a broad business tie-up. Mitsubishi has a 32 percent stake in Japan's No.2 convenience store chain Lawson Inc 2651.T.

Itochu also owns a little over 30 percent of Japan's third-largest convenience store chain FamilyMart Co Ltd 8028.T. Asked at the briefing about chances of a tie-up between FamilyMart and Circle K Sunkus, the presidents of Itochu and Uny refused to be drawn, saying only that there were possibilities for working together. (Reporting by Taiga Uranaka; Editing by Michael Watson)