Russia's VTB Capital plans sale of Lenta hypermarket stake by 2015

MOSCOW Fri Nov 30, 2012 7:56pm IST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's VTB Capital wants to sell its stake in hypermarket chain Lenta by 2015 and would consider a buyer like U.S. mega-retailer Wal-Mart (WMT.N) when the time comes, the investment bank's global head of private equity said.

VTB Capital, a unit of Russia's No.2 lender VTB (VTBR.MM), and U.S. private equity firm TPG raised their combined stake in Lenta in 2011 to end a long-running dispute over control and strategy that had stalled the chain's expansion.

Sources familiar with the deal say the two now own 65 percent of the company against 31 percent before, with more than 50 percent held by TPG.

"It's rare to find an investment opportunity similar to Lenta: To have literally doubled the investment (we have) made in two or three years," VTB's Tim Demchenko said in an interview.

"We won't seriously think about selling our share in Lenta before 2014, planning it by 2015," he said, and said the bank would consider Wal-Mart as a potential buyer.

Wal-Mart was rumored to be looking at Lenta, Karusel - now part of Russia's top food retailer X5 (PJPq.L) - or X5 itself as possible vehicles to enter the Russian market, but appeared to give up its ambitions when it closed it Moscow office in 2010.

The company stoked new speculation last year by hiring Lev Khasis, the former head of X5, as a senior vice president in September 2011.

Demchenko said Lenta will increase the pace of its expansion, with plans for at least 15 news stores a year. The chain currently comprises 47 hypermarkets.

(Writing by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Sonya Hepinstall)

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