Lenta Mulls Sale to Fund Superstores

Lenta, the country's third-biggest food retailer, may sell a stake of as much as 20 percent to raise funds for new superstores.

Managers have held talks with "a number of well-known investment funds" on selling a holding of at least 15 percent, chief executive Vladimir Senkin said Wednesday at a news conference. A transaction may be completed within three months, he said, adding that Lenta also may sell bonds by the end of the year to help fund expansion.

The company has said it may hold an IPO or sell a stake this year to fund expansion as rising incomes enable more Russians to buy food in stores instead of open markets. Sales rose 53 percent to $1.56 billion in 2007 at Lenta, which aims to keep revenue growth above 50 percent in coming years, Senkin said.

"We will continue to develop, and this requires additional financial resources," he said. "The initial public offering remains an open question. A private placement is most suitable now, but in a year or two that may change."

The company's shareholders are battling in court for control of the company after disagreeing on growth funding. A judge in the British Virgin Islands is hearing cases filed by founder Oleg Zherebtsov against co-owner August Meyer and another case mounted by Meyer against Zherebtsov, Meyer's spokeswoman said Jan. 30.

Zherebtsov, who owns a 35 percent stake, installed Senkin last month after ousting Sergei Yushchenko.