Metro announces exclusive talks on hypermarkets sale with X+Bricks

DUESSELDORF/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Metro B4B.DE is entering exclusive talks on the sale of its struggling Real hypermarkets unit to a consortium led by property investor X+Bricks, the German wholesaler said on Thursday, confirming a Reuters report.

FILE PHOTO: The checkout area of one of the top three cash and carry markets of Metro AG is seen in Sankt Augustin near Bonn in this March 18, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

The negotiations with another bidder consortium led by Redos Real Estate, which had been in the lead to buy Real since May, have been terminated, Metro said, adding that Metro will not retain any stake in Real.

The current status of negotiations, which Metro aims to conclude by the end of January, imply a net cash inflow of approximately 500 million euros (£429.54 million), Metro added.

Real has been struggling for years in a fiercely competitive German market dominated by discounters Aldi and Lidl and as the rise of ecommerce has undermined hypermarkets globally.

Metro took an impairment of 385 million euros for Real for the first nine months of its 2018/19 fiscal year, when the hypermarket chain saw like-for-like sales fell by 0.8%.

X+Bricks earlier this month beefed up its offer for the hypermarkets, while an initially planned deal with rival Redos - that would have seen Metro keeping a stake in Real - did not get over the finishing line.

Metro’s biggest shareholder, Czech businessman Daniel Kretinsky had criticised the plan to sell Real to Redos, saying the price was too low. He declined to comment on Thursday.

Once a sprawling retail conglomerate, Metro has in recent years been restructuring to focus on its core cash-and-carry business, selling off the Kaufhof department stores and then splitting from consumer electronics group Ceconomy CECG.DE.

As part of the planned deal with X+Bricks, the consortium would buy Real’s operating business, the online marketplace and 80 retail properties.

While the consortium is planning to continue operating some of the more than 270 Real stores, the majority of stores will be sold on to other retailers such as Kaufland, Edeka, Rewe or Tegut.

“It is the intention to contractually oblige these retailers to take over the Real employees”, Metro said.

X+Bricks originally struck a deal with Kaufland to transfer 120 stores to the retailer, but this exclusive cooperation has been dissolved. It remains unclear how many stores Kaufland will buy instead. Kaufland is the hypermarket chain owned by the Schwarz group which also runs Lidl.

X+Bricks was not immediately available for comment.

The potential transaction is subject to the approval by antitrust and other regulatory authorities, Metro said.

X+Bricks, founded in August 2018 the former chief of property firm Corestate CCAG.DE, Sascha Wilhelm, specialises in investments food-anchored real estate such as supermarkets, discounters and retail warehouses.

Reporting by Matthias Inverardi and Arno Schuetze; editing by Thomas Escritt and Elaine Hardcastle