Kishore Biyani not to sell stake in Big Bazaar & Food Bazaar chains

11 Jun,2012

By Chaitali Chakravarty


Retail magnate Kishore Biyani said that he is not in talks with anybody to sell stake in Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar chains because his Future Group has sorted out its debt crisis after three back-to-back deals in the past one month.


“We are not in discussions with anybody. I don’t want to divest my core retail business now. I want to run it,” Mr Biyani told ET. “Our debt levels are very comfortable and divestment, if any, will only be in non-core assets,” the Future Group chief said.


In recent weeks, the retail industry has been abuzz with speculation that the Future Group was in talks with India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani to sell stake in its flagship Big Bazaar hypermarket network, which contributes almost 65 per cent of revenues of Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd, the listed entity of Future Group.


Reliance Industries operates a nationwide network of retail chains under Reliance Retail and Mr Ambani sees this segment as one of the engines of future growth for the conglomerate.


A Reliance Industries spokesman denied any negotiations with Biyani. “We deny that Reliance Industries has ever been in talks with Future Group or Mr Kishore Biyani for any stake sale,” he said.


A person aware of developments in Future Group, however, said Reliance Retail and Future Group had explored the possibility of a partnership about three months ago. But the talks did not proceed because the AV Birla Group moved faster and agreed to buy Pantaloons department chain, helping Future Group improve its precarious financial situation.


“At that time the priority was to bring money into the company and the Pantaloons deal addressed that issue,” the person said.


The Future Group, which has been in an aggressive expansion mode, ran into a crisis with consolidated debt of Rs7,800 crore that weighed on its profitability. Pantaloon Retail has been spending more than Rs100 crore in interest over each of the past three quarters. This started to pinch as consumer spending slowed. That was when Mr Biyani started looking to sell assets to pare debt.


Last month, the Future Group sold a majority stake in Pantaloons department chain to AV Birla Group’s Aditya Birla Nuvo for Rs1,600 crore that included Rs800 crore of debt transfer.


Then, last week, the Future Group announced sale of its 53.67per cent stake in Future Capital Holdings to US-based private equity firm Warburg Pincus for Rs4,250 crore, which included Rs450 crore of cash payout and Rs3,800 crore of debt transfer. Pantaloon Retail also raised Rs 200 crore through a preferential share allotment last week.


“In the past one month, Biyani has managed to reduce his debt by Rs 6,000 crore. Now, he is in no hurry to sell any of his core businesses,” the person close to Future Group said. A senior official of a rival retailer, however, said Mr Biyani will ultimately get a partner for his value chain. “The only question is if he will tie up with an Indian company or wait for foreign direct investment to be allowed in the sector so he can find an international partner,” the person said.


Meanwhile, Mr Biyani plans to sell more non-core assets in a bid to make the Bombay Stock Exchange-listed Pantaloon Retail debt-free by March 2013.


He plans to raise Rs1,650 crore by October by offloading shares in his insurance and stationery joint ventures, the consumer electronics chain and home furnishing network. This would include raising Rs1,000 crore by divesting stake in Future Generali insurance. This will help prune Pantaloon Retail’s standalone debt, which stood at about Rs5,500 crore at the end of March.


The group also plans to shed 40 per cent stake in the electronics retailing business eZone when it merges it with Noida-based InTarvo Technologies, which specialises in providing technical support to large corporations and retailers. InTarvo could not be contacted for comment despite repeated attempts.


Mr Biyani also plans to sell a minority stake in home furnishing and do-it-yourself chain Home Town network for about Rs 300 crore in the next two months.


He said his group’s May deal to cede controlling stake in Pantaloons chain to AV Birla Group was a one-off transaction. The company will only sell minority stakes in any future deals in its core retailing business and will maintain majority stake in such ventures, he said.


Mr Biyani added that he doesn’t want to touch Future Value Retail, which operates Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar, as the group’s debt situation can be controlled.


The only way he wants to touch Big Bazaar is by undertaking some tweaking in the profitable 150-strong chain by introducing improved services and consumer-centric approaches, underscoring with a new tagline ‘Aapki Sewa Mein’ (or, ‘At Your Service’). Big Bazaar is changing its tagline months after it adopted ‘New India’s New Bazaar’.


Source: The Economic Times
Copyright © 2012, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved


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