By Dominique Vidalon and Alberto Alerigi
PARIS/BRASILIA (Reuters) – French retailer Casino <CASP.PA>, grappling with high debts, on Thursday unveiled plans to simplify the complex shareholding structure of its Latin American operations to try to boost the value of the business.
The restructuring would result in Casino controlling its Latin American business in Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and Argentina through a 41.4% stake in Brazilian unit Grupo Pao de Acucar (GPA) <PCAR4.SA>.
The restructuring would also see GPA’s shares migrate to the Novo Mercado segment of Brazil’s stock exchange, a move that requires it to comply with stricter governance standards and give “access to an extended base of international investors”.
The move comes as the Casino group is trying to improve its financial position and address investor critics over the complex am sometimes opaque structure of its business.
Last month Casino’s parent companies including Rallye <GENC.PA> were placed under protection from creditors to seek to save the indebted French group from collapse.
Under the planned deal, Casino’s Brazil subsidiary retailer GPA will buy all shares in Colombian unit Almacenes Exito SA <IMI.CN>.
Casino’s Chief Financial Officer David Lubek told Reuters the move would “help improve the value of the Latin American assets.”
This could thus make it easier for Casino to later sell GPA shares to investors, added analysts.
Latin America, and particularly Brazil, is a key contributor to Casino’s sales and profit, and has helped offset a weaker performance in France, where the retailing group has faced price wars among supermarket companies.
By 1015 GMT, Casino shares gained 1.5% as investors welcomed the long-awaited move, which Jefferies analysts said “could allow the French group a greater monetisation of the re-rated equity” and “help the deleverage process,”
Brazil’s GPA will use cash to acquire all shares in Almacenes Exito with a potential purchase price of 16,000 to 18,000 Colombian pesos (4.45 pounds) per share. Casino would acquire all controlling shares in GPA indirectly owned by Exito.
Earlier this month, GPA sold its 36% stake in Brazilian appliance and electronics seller Via Varejo <VVAR3.SA> in an auction, raising 2.3 billion reais (470.9 million pounds).
Investors have long lamented the complexity of various holding company structures set up by Casino Chairman and CEO Jean-Charles Naouri and have urged him to simplify them.
In 2015, short-seller Muddy Waters criticized Casino’s complex structure and accounting practices, saying it was “dangerously leveraged”, and managed for the short-term.
Casino has consistently rejected Muddy Waters’ accusations.
The AMF launched a probe into the criticism in early 2016 and the current investigation, which is looking into both Casino and Muddy Waters, is expected to reach a conclusion soon.
Muddy Waters has already rejected the preliminary findings of the AMF probe after Le Monde newspaper said the regulator suspected Muddy Waters of “deception” regarding Casino, whose shares have been hurt by Muddy Waters comments.
On Thursday, French paper Les Echos said the AMF preliminary report also criticised Casino’s financial communication.
Casino said it would not comment on an “ongoing procedure”
An AMF spokeswoman said on Thursday: “ The AMF regrets the release in the press of elements that are presented as being part of the investigation, a release which hurts the measured process of the investigation procedure.”
(Reporting by Alberto Alerigi Jr and Jake Spring; Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Inti Landauro, Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris; Editing by Sandra Maler, Jonathan Oatis, Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Keith Weir)