The trail of a Carrefour-Auchan wedding

Alexandre Bompard, the CEO of Carrefour, has never hidden that he considered essential a consolidation in the too fragmented French market of mass distribution. And that he was ready to take action if the opportunity presented itself. In 2018, however, the exploratory discussions with Jean-Charles Naouri with a view to marrying Carrefour and Groupe Casino had come to an end. And in January 2021, Bruno Le Maire had rejected the Canadian Couche-Tard who coveted the tricolor group.

According to our information, far from being scalded, Mr. Bompard, whose mandate was renewed for three years in May 2021, is exploring new avenues. One scenario in particular, if it materialized, would have something to upset the hierarchy of brands, allowing Carrefour to overtake Leclerc on the French market. According to several sources, in fact, discussions were initiated in spring 2021 with the Mulliez family with a view to bringing Carrefour and Auchan together.

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A complex operation from a competition law point of view – the first weighing 19% of the French market according to the latest scores from the Kantar institute, against 8.9% for the second – as in financial terms, Carrefour being listed, unlike Auchan. According to some, the negotiations would have stalled before the summer for lack of an agreement on parities but, according to an investment banker, the dialogue would not be broken. Neither Carrefour nor Auchan wished to comment on this information.

An essential link

In recent days, the financial community has been surprised by the large volumes of trade in Carrefour shares. The price started to rise again after the slide caused by the murderous announcement on August 31 of the withdrawal of the capital from Financière Agache, holding company of Bernard Arnault. “Hedge funds are in the process of positioning themselves pending a takeover bid”, relates a trader. Thursday, September 29, the Carrefour share closed just below 16 euros, when it was quoted close to 17 euros when Groupe Arnault sold its participation.

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“Everyone is dancing with everyone, but we don’t yet know who we’ll be leaving with at the end of the ball”: it is the colorful reading that Lucien Douroux, former boss of Crédit Agricole, gave conversations between major bankers, on the eve of a wave of concentrations. Distributors have also started their pas de deux. Except that the ball drags on and the flirtations skate.

Carrefour being the only uncontrolled listed player, in the midst of independents (Leclerc, Système U, Intermarché) and brands in the bosom of families (Casino Group, Auchan), it is not surprising to find it in the center of the track. On September 12, 2018, Mr. Bompard and Mr. Naouri met through businessman Alain Minc to talk about marriage. The exchange had lasted less than an hour. The two bosses then passed the buck, by press releases, each assuring that the other was the instigator of this failed meeting.

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