British grocer Tesco is among bidders expected to express interest in buying a controlling stake in South Korean electronics retailer Hi-Mart Co, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The top three shareholders of Hi-Mart, including Eugene Corp, have appointed Citigroup Inc to advise on the sale. The 57.6 per cent combined stake up for grabs is worth about $900 million based on Hi-Mart’s latest share price.
The auction is attracting interest from South Korean domestic retailers and several private equity firms as they eye robust retail sales is Asia’s fourth-biggest economy. Although South Korea’s economy is running out of steam as a result of the euro zone debt crisis, retail sales rebounded in December.
First round bids for Hi-Mart’s stake are due before the end of this month, said the sources, who declined to be identified as they were not authorised to speak to the media.
The sources said it was unclear whether Tesco would submit a formal bid. Tesco, the world’s third-biggest retailer, declined comment.
Tesco has a fully-owned retail business in South Korea, named Homeplus, operating 125 large retail stores and 267 supermarkets. Unlisted Homeplus recorded 5.2 trillion won ($4.62 billion) in sales for the third quarter of 2011 and 301.5 billion won in operating profit for the same period, according to a recent regulatory filing.
South Korean retailers Shinsegae Co and Lotte Group are considering bidding for the stake. However, GS Retail said on Feb.2 that it had decided not to pursue the deal after initially showing interesting in the process. Hi-Mart, which has 301 branches nationwide, recorded an operating profit of 257.4 billion won ($228.6 million) for 2011, according to a recent regulatory filing. The planned sale of controlling stake comes less than a year after the company was floated on South Korean stock exchange.
Hi-Mart shares rose 1.3 per cent after the Reuters report, compared with a 1.11 per cent fall in the benchmark KOSPI index.
Hi-Mart was previously owned by Pan Asia buyout fund Affinity Equity Partners, which sold its investment in 2008 in one of the most highly profitable exits in Asia.