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French retailer Carrefour denies seeking Casino merger

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Paris (AFP)

French supermarket giant Carrefour on Monday denied approaching rival Casino with a tentative offer for a tie-up, as the pair became the latest chains to be swept up in Europe's retail wars.

The development comes as behemoths like Carrefour -- which at the turn of the century was the world's second-biggest retailer but which has since lost ground to online competitors like Amazon and Costco -- struggle to retain their dominance.

In a statement released in English, supermarket chain Casino said Sunday it had been "has been contacted by Carrefour over the last few days with a view to a possible combination".

It said its board met to discuss the proposal, but that it rejected the bid outright.

Carrefour responded several hours later by issuing a statement that "denies having solicited Casino".

It also said it was "surprised that Casino's board of directors would have been submitted a merger proposal that does not exist", adding that it was considering legal action.

- 'No sense' -

Analysts at ING Research said in a note that at this stage it was "difficult to assess how much truth the talk (of a merger) holds".

Bloomberg News meanwhile cited Bruno Monteyne, an analyst at Sanord C. Bernstein, as saying that a Carrefour bid for Casino "would make no sense", because regulators would "force them to sell too many stores in France to make the deal to work".

Yves Marin at Paris-based Bartle Consulting said the developments may have been "a trial run by Casino to test the market".

He also said that whatever the outcome, "it shows that the (retail) sector is in a frenzy... Everyone is talking to everyone else, retailers are talking to each other but also with Amazon and Microsoft."

In September, Standard and Poor's ratings agency reviewed Casino's rating down a notch to BB, with a negative outlook, citing the group's debt pile of 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion).

Casino, which in 2017 reported a 37.8 billion turnover, said it is working to return to profitability and to free itself from its debt.

Carrefour last year reported sales of 88.2 billion euros.

In the first half of 2018, the group suffered a loss of 861 million euros, chiefly because of the costs incurred from the restructuring strategy put in place by its CEO, Alexandre Bompard, who has been at the helm since last year.

Carrefour in August said it had finalised a purchasing alliance with British supermarket giant Tesco, in a bid to increase their leverage in the fiercely competitive sector.

Also in Britain, Sainsbury's and Walmart-owned Asda unveiled merger plans in April to create a retail king that would leapfrog Tesco. That merger will face an in-depth competition probe, regulators said last week.

Tesco announced plans last week for discount food stores across the UK, as it comes under growing pressure from German-owned Aldi and Lidl.

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