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Reliance eyes major stake in Carrefour

Last updated on: March 14, 2007 20:12 IST
Primed for a global footprint in the retail business, Mukesh Ambani's Reliance group is talking to French retail major Carrefour as also other global players for acquiring controlling stake to reach out to international consumers with its basket of Indian food produce.

Reliance Industries, which has a war-chest of Rs 1,00,000 crore (Rs 1000 billion), is looking to create international business arms for accessing global markets by leveraging on its supply chain that was put in place as part of the farm-to-fork project.

Besides Carrefour, Reliance is also talking to tier-2 companies like Salisbury and Marks and Spencer for food business, sources said. When contacted, an RIL spokesperson in Mumbai declined to comment.

Sources familiar with the development, however, said that top officials of RIL are already shuttling between continents to work out details for a deal, which could be through direct equity participation, a joint venture or outright acquisition.

An announcement on the progress related to the group's global retail foray is expected at RIL's next AGM, possibly in June.

The group has enough liquidity and Ambani is believed to have created a trust with cash up to Rs 25,000 crore (Rs 250 billion), which could be doubled with other investors for leveraging the equivalent debt for global acquisitions.

Ambani, who is the world's 14th richest person as per Forbes, had last year pledged an investment of Rs 25,000 crore in the retail business, which was kicked off in November 2006 with the launch of food format stores -- Reliance Fresh.

The other formats like hypermarkets, supermarkets and speciality stores are set for launch in the first quarter of FY'08.

Going by the present level of real estate acquisition for the purpose, the investment in the domestic retail business could double.

Ambani, whose group has embraced contract farming in a major way, is hoping to market India's agriculture produce, including fruits and vegetables that could fetch much higher value abroad than the domestic market.

Reliance Retail has already emerged as the single largest player in the fresh food format stores within months of its launch and Ambani is believed to be keen on taking his farm-to-fork project global.

The move comes amid a rush among global retail giants to enter India, one of the most promising retail markets with a population of over one billion. Besides, India could emerge as an attractive sourcing destination. 

Asked whether Reliance had approached it, a spokesperson for J Sainsbury Plc said: "As a matter of policy, we do not comment on market speculation."

Meanwhile, British media reports said that four private equity firms -- CVC Capital Partners, KKR, Blackstone and Texas Pacific -- have jointly offered an $18.3 billion bid for acquiring Sainsbury, UK's third largest supermarket chain with 769 stores.

Sainsbury's potential suitors include Wal-Mart's UK unit Asda and Marks and Spencer, UK's biggest clothing retailer, which said earlier this month that it was considering a bid, but would not be making an offer "at this time."

Shares of both Carrefour and J Sainsbury rose between 1-3 per cent on takeover talks.  

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