July 12, 2017 / 8:35 AM / 6 months ago

Metro businesses set sights on acquisitions after demerger

DUESSELDORF (Reuters) - A German court gave retailer Metro MEOG.DE the green light on Wednesday to split its food business from its consumer electronics division, a move it hopes will allow the independent companies to pursue more acquisitions.

The court move means Metro can proceed with plans to list shares in its wholesale and hypermarkets food business on Thursday, while shares in the consumer electronics business - renamed Ceconomy - will trade independently for the first time.

Metro, a sprawling conglomerate, has spent several years restructuring and selling non-core businesses such as its Kaufhof department stores, to focus on its cash-and-carry business and Media-Saturn electronics chain.

Fierce competition from Amazon (AMZN.O) is seen as likely to trigger more mergers in the consumer electronics sector after French retailer Fnac (FNAC.PA) bought Darty last year.

“Ceconomy will drive the transformation and consolidation of consumer electronics in Europe in a dynamic way,” Chief Executive Pieter Haas told reporters on a conference call.

Haas said he expected the pace of consolidation to increase in the coming years due to the need for “massive” investment in areas such as digital price tags, loyalty schemes and big data processing as ecommerce shakes up retailing.

In May Ceconomy reported a loss due to heavy investment.

FILE PHOTO: A worker arranges vegetables inside a newly opened wholesale store of Metro Cash & Carry India, at Sarkhej on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, India June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Amit Dave/File Photo

Ceconomy is Europe’s biggest consumer electronics group, ahead of Britain’s Dixons Carphone (DC.L), running more than 1,000 stores in 15 European countries, with sales of 22 billion euros ($25 billion) in the 2015/16 financial year.

Metro’s cash-and carry business that serves independent traders, hotels and restaurants is already an active acquirer, buying Pro a Pro from Belgian retail and wholesale group Colruyt last year and Singapore-based Classic Fine Foods in 2015.

Metro’s wholesale business has 751 stores in 25 countries. Along with Real hypermarkets in Germany, Metro’s food unit had 2015-16 sales of 37 billion euros.

    Metro hopes the split will trigger a revaluation of the stock as Metro has traded at a discount to other pure wholesale retailers such as Sysco (SYY.N) and Britain’s Booker (BOK.L).

    Shares in Metro, which have sagged on uncertainty about the court proceedings, were up 1.5 percent to 29.64 euros by 1142 GMT.

    Most of Metro’s shareholders already approved the plan to split in February, but some, including Erich Kellerhals, the founder of Media-Saturn, launched a legal challenge.

    Kellerhals has been at odds with Metro over its management of Media-Saturn for years. Kellerhals’ Convergenta investment firm said it would actively defend its rights in the new structure but Ceconomy’s Haas said the split should limit his influence in the future.

    Bernstein analyst Bruno Monteyne expects the current share price of around 29 euros to be split into about 18.50 euros for the wholesale and food group and 10.50 for Ceconomy at the opening auction on Thursday.

    Reporting by Matthias Inverardi, writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Jane Merriman, Greg Mahlich

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