Walmart confirms early stage talks on sale of Asda

Edmund HeaphyFinance and news reporter
Yahoo Finance UK
Walmart said it was considering the sale of Asda, its wholly owned subsidiary. (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)
Walmart said it was considering the sale of Asda, its wholly owned subsidiary. (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)

Walmart (WMT) on Wednesday confirmed it is in talks to sell a controlling stake in Asda.

The world’s largest retailer said it had received “inbound interest” from several parties about acquiring a stake in the UK supermarket chain, but said no decisions had been made on any third-party investment.

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“Together, we are in discussions with a small number of interested parties who share Walmart and Asda’s commitment and passion to growing the business,” Walmart said on Wednesday, noting that it would retain a significant stake in Asda even after any sale.

Walmart declined to name which parties it was holding discussions with, and said it would not comment further on the matter.

The company had signalled that it was open to pursuing an initial public offering (IPO) of Asda, and suggested on Wednesday that it was still considering that as an option.

The discussions come after the UK’s competition regulator last year blocked a proposed £12bn merger between Asda and rival supermarket chain Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L). The deal valued Asda at £7.3bn.

The Competition and Markets Authority said that it had “extensive concerns” about the impact of the merger on competition, suggesting that it could lead to higher food and fuel prices.

Founded in Yorkshire in the 1960s, Asda is the UK’s third-largest supermarket, has over 600 stores across the UK, and employs 140,000 people.

The chain made a profit of £710.4m in 2018, the most recent year accounts are available for, on revenues of £22.9bn.

Walmart acquired Asda for close to £7bn in 1999, but has been plotting a retreat from the UK in recent years.

As it competes with e-commerce behemoth Amazon (AMZN), Walmart has sought to focus less on its international divisions, which are around one-third the size of its US business.

In 2018, Walmart sold a controlling stake in its Brazilian unit to private equity firm Advent International, and in 2016 it sold Yihaodian, its Chinese online marketplace, to JD.com.

Meanwhile, Asda — like other big grocers in the UK — has been battling the rise of German discount supermarket chains Aldi and Lidl, who have been luring away customers with lower prices.

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