Wal-Mart Continues Discussions on Buying Lenta

Wal-Mart is currently in discussions with TPG Capital, a private equity fund and owner of a 25 percent stake in St. Petersburg retailer Lenta, on the possibility of buying it shares, an executive at the Russian retail firm said. An executive at the bank partnering Wal-Mart also confirmed knowledge of the discussions. According to the executive, the parties have reached a preliminary agreement and are now discussing the scheme transactions. Wal-Mart is looking to gain a controlling stake in Lenta, so the deal may include the option of purchasing other shareholders shares, the banks executive said.

In October 2009 TPG Capital, in partnership with VTB Capital, bought out Oleg Zherebtsov, Lentas founder. He sold his 35.4 percent stake in the company for $110 million. At the time representatives of TPG and VTB Capital talked about the intention to remain in the company for two to four years. VTB Capital is not currently in talks to sell its share in Lenta, a senior manager at the bank told Vedomosti. Representatives of TPG and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which owns 11 percent of Lenta, declined to comment. Wal-Mart also declined comment.

A source at Lenta and two of its minority shareholders told Vedomosti that representatives from Wal-Mart regularly come into the company to discuss possible purchase of the company, as well as the overall situation in the Russian retail sector. Both minority shareholders said that Wal-Mart has not yet made them any offer to buy their shares in the company. In total, minority shareholders control around 18 percent of the company.

Previously, Wal-Mart had been active in negotiations with TPG Capital and VTB Capital on buying their stakes in the company, said one of the minority shareholders, who did not know what stage those talks were currently at. The source at Lenta also confirmed this. Wal-Mart began talks with TPG Capital and VTB Capital immediately after they became investors in Lenta.

August Meyer, who with a 36 percent stake is the largest shareholder in Lenta, declined to comment on negotiations between Lentas shareholders and Wal-Mart representatives.

A year ago, Wal-Mart had talks with Penny Lane Realty on search sites in Russia for the construction of its own stores, but later abandoned the talks, saying that it wants to buy an existing sales network and rebrand it, said Andrei Mogila, director of Penny Lanes retail and regional real estate.