Business Maverick

France Objects to Couche-Tard’s $20 Billion Carrefour Bid

By Bloomberg 13 January 2021
Caption
Pedestrians pass a Carrefour Market supermarket, operated by Carrefour SA, in Paris, France, on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., the Canadian convenience-store operator that owns the Circle K chain, is exploring a takeover of French grocer Carrefour SA, a deal that would create a trans-Atlantic retail giant.

The French government is opposed to Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. buying France’s Carrefour SA, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said, casting doubt on prospects for a $20 billion trans-Atlantic retail deal.

Le Maire said the Covid crisis has demonstrated the importance of domestic control over the food supply. Carrefour and other grocers have faced surges in demand during lockdowns, with consumers clearing shelves of some items.

“From this point of view, the idea of Carrefour being bought by a foreign competitor — on the face of it, I am not in favor of this deal,” the finance minister said on France 5 television.

Couche-Tard said Wednesday that it had submitted an offer at 20 euros a share, financed largely in cash, confirming earlier Bloomberg reports. A takeover would combine Carrefour’s extensive European base with the Canadian company’s North American-focused network of 24-hour convenience stores.

Couche-Tard shares, down as much as 11.6% earlier Wednesday, regained some ground after Le Maire’s comments, trading down 9%.

Le Maire said rules on state screening of foreign investments, which he strengthened during the pandemic, will allow the state to block deals in food distribution.

“Food sovereignty comes before everything,” Le Maire said.

Still On?

There may be an element of posturing in the finance minister’s blunt talk, said Clement Genelot, an analyst at Bryan Garnier & Co., and the takeover could still take place.

“I guess it is just a communication game,” he said. “Bruno Le Maire wants to be invited at the negotiations table. I don’t think he will eventually block a deal.”

Carrefour, which operates everything from convenience stores to giant suburban hypermarkets, is the country’s biggest private employer, making any takeover especially sensitive. France has a history of objecting to foreign approaches to its blue-chip companies.

In 2005, French politicians frowned on talk of an approach from PepsiCo Inc. to Danone SA, stopping it dead in the water. More recently, deals such as General Electric Co.’s acquisition of Alstom SA’s power business were cleared with stringent conditions.

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