Grocers See Consolidation in Crisis

bloombergX5 and Dixy said Thursday that the financial crisis would offer opportunities to snap up smaller, debt-laden retailers.
The financial crisis will present extraordinary consolidation opportunities for the food retail industry, the heads of X5 Retail Group and Dixy said at an investor conference Thursday.

Despite an increased focus on cost controls and a more cautious expansion approach, the retailers said they would continue to grow both organically and through acquisitions.

Lev Khassis, CEO of X5 Retail Group, said the company had revised its 2008 capital expenditures program from $1.4 billion to $1 billion, deferring long-term projects, as it was looking to get a higher return and shorter payback on new stores. But it still planned to open 90 stores this year and grow through consolidation next year.

"There will be opportunities to buy companies for the price of their net debt plus some nominal amount," Khassis said. "We have a lot of experience in this, as we have made seven acquisitions in the past two years."

He said the discount format of X5's Pyatyorochka stores was best-placed during the crisis, as customers become increasingly price-sensitive.

Dixy Group's chief executive, Fyodor Rybasov, said the firm planned to open 100 new stores but that they would primarily be in rented spaces, as Dixy had stopped buying real estate in an expectation of a fall in property prices.

He said 2009 would be a year of "consolidation" and that several regional retailers had already contacted Dixy about potential sales of their business.

Khassis and Rybasov said both they were in discussions to receive credit lines from state banks.

Dixy said it was in discussions with VTB and Sberbank, while X5 said it was focusing on gradual reduction of its short-term debt and was in discussions regarding the refinancing of its long-term debt facilities.