World News

Walmart in talks with possible buyers for Asda stake

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) – Walmart <WMT.N>, the world’s largest retailer, is in talks with possible buyers of a stake in its British supermarket Asda, which it failed to combine with Sainsbury’s <SBRY.L> last year.

Asda and Walmart said in a joint statement on Wednesday that discussions with “a small number” of suitors followed “inbound interest” but no decisions had been taken.

In common with its traditional big four British rivals – market leader Tesco <TSCO.L>, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons <MRW.L> – Asda has been losing market share to German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl, which are still opening lots of new stores.

That has put pressure on Asda, which said last week that budget-conscious British consumers were behind a fall in underlying sales in the key Christmas quarter.

“We are currently considering whether there is an opportunity for a third party to invest in Asda, alongside Walmart, in order to support and accelerate the delivery of Asda’s strategy and position Asda for long term success,” Walmart and Asda said in a joint statement.

The potential buyers share Walmart and Asda’s commitment to growing the British business, they added.

Walmart would likely retain a significant minority stake in Asda in any deal, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

Analysts said private equity firms are most likely to be interested in taking a stake in Asda, which Walmart bought for 6.7 billion pounds ($8.7 billion) in 1999.

Walmart said it was considering a separate stock market listing for Asda in April after Britain’s competition regulator blocked Sainsbury’s attempt to buy the firm for 7.3 billion pounds and become the country’s biggest retailer,

Asda Chief Executive Roger Burnley told Reuters in July an initial public offering could happen in two years.

In October, Asda agreed a 3.8 billion pound ‘buy in’ with Rothesay Life to secure the benefits for 12,300 members of one of its pension schemes, simplifying its balance sheet ahead of a possible standalone listing.

Walmart said on Wednesday an IPO remains an attractive long-term objective for Asda.

“Asda is a great business with a clear strategy for the future and Walmart is committed to ensuring it has the resources and support it needs to deliver that strategy,” it said.

The U.S. retailer has focused on turning around its international business by targeting bigger and higher growth markets such as China and India and exiting or tying up with local players elsewhere.

It sold a majority stake in its Brazilian business and acquired a majority interest in Indian e-commerce company Flipkart in its biggest-ever deal in 2018.

($1 = 0.7696 pounds)

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Kate Holton and Alexander Smith)

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