'A clear and final no': French minister opposes $20 billion Canadian offer for Carrefour

FILE PHOTO: French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire speaks during a press conference in Paris, France January 14, 2021, on French government’s current strategy for the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Thomas Coex/Pool via REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) – Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire expressed France’s stiff opposition to a possible near-$20 billion takeover of Carrefour by Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard on Friday, driving the French retailer’s shares down by 4.5%.

“Food security is strategic for our country so that’s why we don’t sell a big French retailer,” Le Maire told BFM TV. “My answer is extremely clear: we are not in favour of the deal. The no is polite but it’s a clear and final no,” he said.

Carrefour, which acknowledged Couche-Tard’s approach to discuss a combination on Wednesday, had no immediate comment on Friday.

Convenience-store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard’s 20 euros per share offer for Carrefour – continental Europe’s largest retailer – also raises other political considerations, as Carrefour is France’s biggest private-sector employer.

Carrefour CFDT union representative Sylvain Mace told BFM business that staff were “surprised and a bit worried” by the offer, which raised concerns over jobs and the future management of the French retailer.

If Le Maire’s opposition to the approach is to protect jobs, “it is a positive signal”, Mace said.

UBS analysts said Carrefour shares were now pricing a low 20% probability of a deal happening.

“Clearly the forceful commentary from the French government suggests they can block the deal. Further, given this was a ‘friendly’ approach we doubt Couche-Tard or indeed Carrefour would challenge this directly,” they wrote.

Separately, Credit rating agency Moody’s said Couche-Tard’s offer for Carrefour would be at about 6.8 times enterprise value to adjusted EBITDA, which was “consistent” with Couche-Tard’s other large acquisitions in the past.

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