Metro open to mediation over Media-Saturn: sources

DUESSELDORF (Reuters) - German retailer Metro AG MEOG.DE is open to mediation to try to end a long-running dispute with the founder of Media-Saturn, Europe's biggest consumer electronics group, industry sources said.

Shopping carts of Germany's biggest retailer Metro AG are lined up at a Metro cash and carry market in the western German city of Sankt Augustin near Bonn in this May 5, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/File Photo

Media-Saturn’s billionaire founder, Erich Kellerhals, still owns a stake of close to 22 percent and has regularly clashed with Metro over its management of the business, most notably over the group’s move into the fast-growing online market.

Earlier this month, Kellerhals’ investment firm Convergenta proposed Clemens Vedder as a mediator, but Metro was initially skeptical, saying that talks were unlikely to work as long as Kellerhals was criticizing the company online and in court.

However, Kellerhals has since removed critical comments from his website and several sources close to the involved parties said Vedder was now in touch with Metro to try to find a basis for talks.

Metro and Convergenta declined to comment.

Metro is currently working on plans to split off its wholesale and food business from Media-Saturn by mid-2017, although some analysts have said the dispute with Kellerhals diminishes the appeal of the consumer electronics group.

Metro will report first-quarter results on Dec. 14 and provide an update on the plans to split the business on Dec. 15.

Media-Saturn saw like-for-like sales in the fiscal fourth quarter fall 2 percent, as turnover sagged after the European soccer championship and due to a decision to end the unprofitable wholesale business of its online site Redcoon.

Kellerhals has long tried to push out Media-Saturn chief executive Pieter Haas and has also said that Media-Saturn needs an urgent capital injection.

Under the plans to split the conglomerate, most of the group’s financial liabilities would be assumed by the wholesale and food company, while Media-Saturn would keep a 10 percent stake in the food business to strengthen its capital base.

Reporting by Matthias Inverardi, writing by Emma Thomasson, editing by Louise Heavens