NEW YORK Auto parts supplier General Parts International is auctioning off its retail store chain, Carquest, in a deal that could fetch $2 billion, three people familiar with the matter said.
Raleigh, North Carolina-based General Parts, which owns about 1,400 of Carquest's 3,400 stores across North America, has hired Wells Fargo (WFC.N) to assist with the sale process, one of the sources said.
The Carquest stores not owned by General Parts are owned by other operators or individuals and are not part of the auction.
Carquest and Wells Fargo declined to comment.
Founded in 1961 by Temple Sloan Jr., General Parts also owns Worldpac, which supplies replacement parts for imported car and truck brands.
Carquest has drawn interest from several private equity firms, the sources said. The auction is in the early stages, with management presentations being held for potential buyers, which could include Leonard Green & Partners LP and KKR & Co (KKR.N), one of the sources said.
Leonard Green and KKR declined to comment.
These firms are betting that fragile U.S. economic growth and high rates of unemployment will lead people to hold on to their cars for longer, which would boost demand for auto parts and sales for retailers such as Carquest.
Auto parts retailers have seen their shares rise in the past year, with investors drawn to the recession-resistant sector. Shares of Advance Auto Parts Inc (AAP.N) have risen about 32 percent in the last 12 months, while O'Reilly Automotive Inc (ORLY.O) shares have soared 48 percent during the same time.
The sector has also seen deal activity in the last several months. In February, Genuine Parts Co (GPC.N) acquired Quaker City Motor Parts Co for an undisclosed sum. In March, muffler provider Midas was acquired by tire supplier TBC Corp - part of Japan's Sumitomo Corp (8053.T) - for $173 million.
Pep Boys-Manny, Moe & Jack (PBY.N) was targeted by private equity firm Gores Group for a $791 million buyout in May, but the deal fell through.
(Reporting by Olivia Oran and Soyoung Kim in New York; editing by John Wallace)