Couche-Tard and Carrefour Abandon Takeover Talks

Canada’sAlimentation Couche-Tard Inc. andCarrefour SA broke off talks on a $20 billion deal in the face of strong opposition from France’s finance minister to the tie-up, according to people familiar with the matter.

The decision to halt negotiations came after top executives of the Quebec-based convenience-store operatorflew to Paris this week to offer the government several sweeteners: billions of euros of investment in Carrefour supermarkets, no job cuts for at least two years and dual stock listings in France and Canada.

It was not enough to persuade Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who told executives in a private meeting Friday he was standing by his position that a takeover would be bad for France. Earlier, Le Maire said on BFM TV: “To sum up: it’s a no. A courteous no, but a no that is clear and definitive.”

Couche-Tard executives are flying back to Canada after the failed talks, the people said. While discussions are on ice for now, they could be revived later if the government changes its position, they said.

Representatives from Carrefour and Couche-Tard did not immediately reply to requests for comment. The decision to stop negotiations was reported first by Reuters.

A merger would have created a retail powerhouse, combining Couche-Tard’s North American convenience-store network with Carrefour’s sizable European operations, which include hypermarkets and smaller stores.

Couche-Tard, Canada’s largest retailer by market value, faced hurdles from the outset for its offer of 20 euros per share. Le Maire signaled that even if both parties agreed to the transaction, regulators might still block it.

France has often objected to foreign attempts to take over its blue-chip companies — frowning on talk of an approach from PepsiCo Inc. to yogurt maker Danone SA in 2005, for example.

The bid for Carrefour was especially sensitive because it’s France’s largest private employer. On top of that, the pandemic has thrust jobs and the nation’s food supply to the top of the political agenda.

Two Dropped Deals

Some Couche-Tard analysts had questioned the deal’s strategic rationale and said it wouldn’t create significant cost savings as there’s little overlap between the two companies’ store networks. Both retailers’ bonds slipped on concerns that the deal would swell the combined company’s debt burden.

The brutal ending marks the second time in nine months that Couche-Tard has come close to a major takeover, only to see it fizzle out.

In April, the company cited the pandemic as a reason for walking away from a $5.6 billion proposal for gas station chain Caltex Australia Ltd. (now known as Ampol Ltd.), ending a six-month pursuit. Its largest acquisition to date is Texas-based CST Brands Inc., a rival chain it agreed to buy in 2016 for about $4 billion.

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