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Retail giant Carrefour takes steps to leave China

Reuters PARIS/SINGAPORE/BEIJING (Reuters) — France’s Carrefour on Sunday became the latest Western retailer to announce a retreat from the Chinese market as fierce competition from domestic rivals and a growing online market puts pressure on foreign firms.

Carrefour, which has been in China since 1995, said in a statement it had agreed to sell 80 percent of its Chinese operations to electronics retailer Suning.com for €620 million ($705 million) in cash.

Carrefour follows other big-name Western retailers such as Tesco PLC and Walmart Inc., which have sold stakes to domestic partners, and Amazon.com Inc. which plans to shut its online store in China next month.

German wholesaler Metro AG, which has 93 stores in China, is also looking to sell its China unit amid a wider company restructuring, people directly involved in the matter have told Reuters.

Carrefour, Europe’s largest retailer, has spent years trying to fix its business in China where its 2018 sales fell 5.9 percent to €4.1 billion.

The agreement with Suning values Carrefour’s China operation, including debt, at €1.4 billion ($1.59 billion), with options to sell the remaining 20 percent stake if Carrefour decides to exit entirely.

Carrefour China, which operates 210 hypermarkets and 24 convenience stores, had net sales of €3.6 billion and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of €66 million in 2018.

The rapid growth of online grocers such as Alibaba Group Holding’s Freshippo and JD.com has eaten into the market share of foreign retailers in China, where consumers have come to expect same-day delivery and competitive prices.

Walmart Inc. sold its online shopping platform to JD.com in 2016 in return for a stake in JD.com as the U.S. retailer focused on its bricks-and-mortar stores.

British supermarket firm Tesco folded its unprofitable operation into a state-run company as a minority partner six years ago.

Suning, which is backed by Alibaba, said in a statement that the acquisition will allow it to strengthen its brand as well as boost its marketing capabilities, food quality control and supply chain management in the sector.

The deal also puts an end to Carrefour’s preliminary talks to sell a minority stake in its China business to technology giant Tencent.

“The talks that have started since January 2018 for the sale of a minority stake [in Carrefour China] to Tencent are over,” a Carrefour spokeswoman said, but a strategic business partnership with Tencent remained in place.Speech

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