The French government on Friday opposed a “clear and definitive” veto on the proposed merger with French giant Carrefour by Couche-Tard, forcing the Canadian group to withdraw its offer, according to Bloomberg.
The decision to throw in the towel was taken after a meeting between French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and Couche-Tard founder Alain Bouchard, according to the bureau, citing sources familiar with the matter.
In an attempt to reassure Bercy, Mr Bouchard had promised several billion investments in Carrefour and had pledged to maintain employment for two years and list the group on the Paris Stock Exchange, in parallel with Canada, the agency.
Contacted by AFP, neither Couche-Tard nor Carrefour confirmed the information on Friday night.
“My position is a polite no, but clear and definitive”: French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire quickly dampened the hopes of supporters of the “tendency” provided by Couche-Tard and Carrefour, declaring Friday on BFMTV and RMC that “we do not sell any of the major French distributors”.
This position is all the more discouraging because the government has the power to block buy-out operations in the agri-food sector, through regulations on the control of foreign investment. “I would rather not use it,” Mr Le Maire added, adding that he would not doubt “if necessary”.
Bruno Le Maire had the opportunity on Friday to explain his position to Mr Bouchard, present in Paris, and also to his colleague in Quebec Pierre Fitzgibbon by telephone, Bercy told AFP.
– The previous “yogurt” –
On Thursday evening, Pierre Fitzgibbon had explained to some journalists that his government had pleaded with the French authorities “that Couche-Tard could be a good owner”.
For his part, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, on Friday declined to comment on the operation based on the “discussions were going on, and limited himself to stating that his government’s role was to companies of his country, “including as they sought to expand into the world. “
The position of the French government had thrown a chill. “The Minister of Economy is not afraid to describe the food distribution sector as strategic, and therefore ridiculed, as his predecessor was when yoghurt (that is to say Danone) had a similar honor,” the financial analysts say. from AlphaValue, citing the state’s refusal to allow Danone to buy Pepsi in 2005.
Another financial analyst who requested anonymity notes that the food supply “does not depend on the nationality of the distributor, otherwise it would mean that Lidl or Aldi have not complied in terms of supply chain or food security” in the past year, both brands are German.
The argument of sovereignty, “we can understand it regarding the issues of defense, civil security, cyber security … There it is less understandable”, also estimated on Thursday with AFP Charles-Henri d’Auvigny, president of the Federation of Individual Investors and Clubs (F2IC).
– Massive investments –
If the sector is strategic, also observed Jacques Creyssel, general representative of the Federation of Trade and Distribution (of which Carrefour is a member), we “need decisions to ensure that this sector can consolidate and survive the largest employer in France”. At BFM Business on Friday, he called for investment to be made “on a massive scale in the coming years so that stores are competitive with Amazon and Alibaba”.
According to the daily newspaper Les Echos, Couche-Tard had mentioned in the initial discussions an investment of 3 billion euros over five years to promote the development of Carrefour, a figure confirmed to AFP by an expert on the stock.
Not enough to convince the government of this, nor the unions of the Carrefour group, who for their part considered that “the consequences, in particular social, of such an operation could be disastrous for the employees”, in the words of FO (first union of the group).
In another press release tweeted Friday, the Snec / CFE-CGC (National Union for the Management of the Carrefour Group, 4th in terms of representativeness) “asked about the silence of the Carrefour Group and the administrative methods of Couche- Tard “, and asked Carrefour to” urgently communicate to its employees “.
The government’s veto has in any case brought the share price of the distributor into the red, at 16.61 euros at the close of Friday. Despite all this, it remains higher than for the shock announcement of these “very preliminary discussions” between the two distributors.
jl-ls-cda-mhc / mra / LyS / jl-et / ybl