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France's Casino agrees to sell Vietnam unit to Thailand's Central

Friday, April 29, 2016, 19:02 GMT+7
France's Casino agrees to sell Vietnam unit to Thailand's Central
A taxi driver waits for his customers next to the logo of Big-C department in central Bangkok, March 4, 2016.

SINGAPORE/BANGKOK, April 29 - France's Casino Group has agreed to sell its Vietnam unit to Thai conglomerate Central Group for 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion) including debt, the retailer said on Friday confirming an earlier Reuters story.

Central Group, controlled by business family Chirathivat with interests in real estate, department stores and retailing, beat rival Thai tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi's TCC Group to win the majority stake in hypermarket operator Big C Vietnam, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The two tycoons have been expanding into their neighbouring Southeast Asian markets in search of growth areas.

The French group on the other hand is retreating from fast-growing Asia markets as it has been under pressure to cut down its heavy debt load. Its shares tumbled in December after short seller Muddy Waters said Casino was "dangerously leveraged" and managed for the short term.

Casino has been battling of late to restore its investment-grade credit rating after Standards & Poor's Ratings Services said it risked downgrade to junk.

In February, Casino sold its stake in Thai hypermarket operator Big C Supercenter PCL for 3.1 billion euros to TCC Group, which beat Central Group in the bidding.

It achieved its Vietnam sale at a multiple of 1.8 times net sales, the company said in a statement.

Central Group declined comment.

Casino Chief Executive Jean-Charles Naouri said he was confident his group would manage to sell 4 billion euros of assets to cut debt which totalled 6.1 billion euros at the end of 2015. He did not rule out exceeding that target.

HSBC advised Casino on the Vietnam sale, while Citigroup and Deutsche Bank advised Central, said people familiar with the matter, declining to be identified as the information was not public. ($1 = 0.8778 euros) 

Reuters

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