France's Carrefour takes step to leave China with deal

Carrefour YouTube grab

France's Carrefour on Sunday became the latest Western retailer to announce a retreat from the Chinese market as fierce competition from domestic rivals and a growing online market puts pressure on foreign firms.

Carrefour, which has been in China since 1995, said in a statement it had agreed to sell 80% of its Chinese operations to electronics retailer for 620 million euros ($705 million) in cash.

Carrefour follows other big-name Western retailers such as Tesco Plc and Walmart Inc, which have sold stakes to domestic partners, and Inc which plans to shut its online store in China next month.

German wholesaler Metro AG, which has 93 stores in China, is also looking to sell its China unit amid a wider company restructuring, people directly involved in the matter have told Reuters.

Carrefour, Europe's largest retailer, has spent years trying to fix its business in China where its 2018 sales fell 5.9% to 4.1 billion euros.

The agreement with Suning values Carrefour's China operation, including debt, at 1.4 billion euros ($1.59 billion), with options to sell the remaining 20% stake if Carrefour decides to exit entirely.

Carrefour China, which operates 210 hypermarkets and 24 convenience stores, had net sales of 3.6 billion euros and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of 66 million euros in 2018.


The rapid growth of online grocers such as Alibaba Group Holding's Freshippo and has eaten into the market share of foreign retailers in China, where consumers have come to expect same-day delivery and competitive prices.

Walmart Inc sold its online shopping platform to in 2016 in return for a stake in as the U.S. retailer focused on its bricks-and-mortar stores.

British supermarket firm Tesco folded its unprofitable operation into a state-run company as a minority partner six years ago.

Suning, which is backed by Alibaba, said in a statement that the acquisition will allow it to strengthen its brand as well as boost its marketing capabilities, food quality control and supply chain management in the sector.

The deal also puts an end to Carrefour's preliminary talks to sell a minority stake in its China business to technology giant Tencent.

"The talks that have started since January 2018 for the sale of a minority stake (in Carrefour China) to Tencent are over," a Carrefour spokeswoman said, but a strategic business partnership with Tencent remained in place.

Carrefour announced a partnership last year with Tencent, which led to the opening of a store in Shanghai.

Carrefour also said at the time that Tencent and Yonghui, a retailer specializing in fresh food and small stores, could take a stake in Carrefour China.

Tencent declined to comment.