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Carrefour source denies chain plans to exit market

By Li Woke (China Daily)

13:56, June 26, 2013

France-based Carrefour SA, the world's second largest-retailer by revenue, denied on Tuesday that it is considering the sale of its China business.

"It's a fake story," said a source close to Carrefour China. "Similar rumors circulated last year."

According to The Wall Street Journal, the French retail giant is exploring the sale of its operations in the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, as well as planning an initial public offering in Hong Kong that would raise about $1 billion.

The source declined to comment on listing plans.

"China is a very important market for Carrefour. The country's current economic situation may pose some difficulties for retailers, but that does not prevent a continued expansion of Carrefour in China," Thierry Garnier, president and chief executive officer of Carrefour China, said during the Fortune Global Forum this month.

At that time, the retailer said it would enter 30 new Chinese cities in the next three years, especially cities in the central and western areas.

"Hypermarkets in big cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, have been well developed. Retail giants will look for emerging markets in central and western areas, where they can [take advantage of] lower costs and rising purchasing power," said Peng Jianzhen, deputy secretary-general of the China Chain Store & Franchise Association.

Garnier added that Carrefour will maintain an expansion speed of about 20 to 25 new outlets in China each year.

While Carrefour is seeking new locations for its hypermarkets in China, some media reports have said the retail giant's glory days have passed, and investors are concerned that the company is retreating from too many high-growth markets.

In the 2012 Top 100 retail chain rankings, by the China chain store association, foreign competitors such as Wal-Mart, and domestic retailers Brilliance Group and CR Vangard, outstripped Carrefour China.

Last year, Carrefour said it was pulling out of Singapore and Greece. Those markets are not the first that the French supermarket chain has left.

In 2010, Carrefour sold its business in Thailand for 868 million euros ($1.14 billion). In 2009, the company withdrew from the Russian market, which experts had seen as a promising one.

In 2005, Carrefour announced the sale of its operations in Japan and Mexico. In 2006, it sold its stores in South Korea.

Gong Bo, an industry analyst at Beijing United Innovation Capital Ltd, said: "The company will not leave China in the short term, as growth of China's retail sector will be faster than in other world markets."

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