By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS (Reuters) - French supermarket chain Casino Guichard Perrachon SA, which has been selling assets to cut debt and reassure investors, said on Thursday it was reviewing strategic options in Latin America.
Casino, which controls Brazilian retailer Grupo Pao de Acucar (GPA), issued a statement after Brazilian paper 0 Globo said the French firm could announce "in the next few days" a plan to combine its assets in Latin America.
Citing reports about plans in Latin America, Casino said "it studies its various strategic options in this region in the context of the permanent review of its investments."
"These thoughts have not led to any material element that would justify a disclosure to the market," it added.
Casino also owns wholesale chain Assai and electronics and appliance retailer Via Varejo in Brazil, and supermarket chain Grupo Exito in Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.
Latin America, and particularly Brazil, is a key contributor to Casino's sales and profits, and has helped offset a weaker performance in France, where Casino has faced price wars among supermarket companies.
Casino had retail sales of 15.6 billion euros (13.45 billion pounds) in Latin America in 2018, or 42.5 percent of overall group sales. The region's operating profit was 644 million, or 53 percent of group profit.
The robust performance of Brazil, Casino's second largest market after France, has been largely driven by the Assai Cash and Carry stores, as Brazil emerges from a recession.
Brazil's GPA holds a 36.3 percent stake in Via Varejo, a business it has been trying to sell since November 2016.
Peter Estermann, who serves as chief executive officer of both companies in Brazil, said Casino's shift in Latam should not affect plans to sell GPA's stake in Via Varejo.
"We're following the same strategy and our focus is still finding a strategic buyer for Via Varejo by the end of this year", Estermann told analysts on a call to discuss GPA's earnings.
Banco Santander Brazil said in a note that Casino could seek to swap some of its 55 percent stake in Exito for GPA shares in Via Varejo. That would allow Casino "to have a larger proportion of Via Varejo's sale."
According to Santander, GPA's current stake in Via Varejo was valued around 450 million euros.
In a securities filing last week, Via Varejo said its board has urged shareholders to remove a clause in its bylaws demanding a tender offer to all shareholders if an investor buys a stake equal to or larger than 20 percent.
Via Varejo said the change in the clause, usually viewed as a defence against takeovers, would be "positive" for the company.
On Wednesday, GPA reported a double-digit drop in first-quarter net consolidated income, missing analysts' estimates and triggering heavy losses in shares. The stock dropped 6 percent at 82.45 reais on Thursday.
Casino shares ended down 2.6 percent on Thursday, giving the company a market capitalisation of less than 4 billion euros. The company reported net debt of 3.4 billion euros at the end of 2018.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Additional reporting by Gabriela Mello and Paula Arend Laier in Sao Paulo; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Edmund Blair and Jeffrey Benkoe)