Germany's Metro in Talks To Sell Vietnam Cash & Carry Unit
German retailer Metro AG is in advanced talks to sell its Cash & Carry wholesale operations in Vietnam to Thailand's Berli Jucker for more than $500 million, people familiar with the matter said.
A deal would come as Metro Chief Executive Olaf Koch is working to streamline the company's sprawling operations and improve profitability.
Mr. Koch has said he wants to shed other brands and focus on Cash & Carry, Metro's core wholesale food business. A deal with Berli Jucker would be an exception to that strategy. The Thai company expressed interest in the 19-store Cash & Carry wholesale operations in Vietnam last year, according to the people familiar with the talks.
A spokesman for Metro declined to comment. Berli Jucker officials couldn't be immediately reached for comment.
When Mr. Koch took over as CEO in 2012, he pledged to focus on expanding the company's wholesale Cash & Carry operations and its Media Markt Saturn unit. The latter business is Europe's largest consumer-electronics retailer, according to the company's website. He has shed unprofitable activities including the Eastern European retail operations of the company's Real brand and wholesale operations in the U.K. and Morocco.
But investors have expressed impatience with the pace of Metro's changes. Fund manager Ingo Speich of investment fund Union Investment has publicly urged the company for years to focus on Cash & Carry. And the company's largest shareholder, the Haniel family, is pushing for resolute action on Media Markt Saturn, which has been hurt by rivals on the Internet. The unit is also suffering from a spat between Metro, which owns about 79% of Media Markt Saturn, and founder Erich Kellerhals, who holds roughly 21%.
Mr. Kellerhals recently hired Morgan Stanley to push a plan under which Metro would spin off Media Markt Saturn as a dividend-in-kind to shareholders.
Metro's Mr. Koch told journalists he was skeptical of the idea. Media Markt Saturn "can't simply be spun off without laying the necessary groundwork," he said. He added that a spinoff wouldn't work because Metro would still bear responsibility for its shareholders and Media Markt's employees and also some liabilities after a split.
The Haniel family, like Mr. Kellerhals, supports spinning off the unit to shareholders, people familiar with the matter said.
Metro recently also faced a setback in Russia, where in March it postponed plans for an initial public offering of its Russian Cash & Carry operations. Metro blamed instability caused by tensions between Russia and the West. The proceeds from floating a minority stake in the operations were earmarked to fund expansion of the Russian business.
Berli Jucker is trading company controlled by Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi.
Source: Wall Street Journal