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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lenta Scraps Share Sale Plan, But Still Looking for Buyer

Lenta scrapped an attempt to sell itself and said Thursday that a 35 percent stake was still for sale, stoking speculation that shareholders were divided on whether to accept a low price as the economy sours.

Stephen Ogden, the chairman of Russia's third-biggest food retailer, said five buyout firms were in talks to acquire the 35 percent stake, which is the same size as that held by company founder Oleg Zherebtsov. He would not name the stake's seller, and Olga Kurganskaya, an aide to Zherebtsov, declined to comment.

Ogden told reporters that two of the buyout firms are based in Moscow, two are in New York and one is a "global fund," and he expects the sale to be complete within months. Vedomosti reported Sept. 23 that Wal-Mart Stores, Carrefour, Kesko and Croatia's Agrokor d.d. bid for an 89 percent stake at the start of August, valuing Lenta at more than $2 billion.

"Lenta shareholders likely backed away from the auction because of the low multiples investors now demand," given that the economy has worsened since August, said Sabina Muhamedzhanova, an analyst at Bank of Moscow. Zherebtsov may have a stronger need to raise cash for his other businesses, and may want an exit even at a low price, she said.

Other shareholders include August Meyer, who has a 36 percent stake, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, with 11 percent.

The St. Petersburg-based owner of 34 superstores plans to open three outlets this year, fewer than it did in 2008, Ogden said. Sales advanced 54 percent to 50.8 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) in 2008, the company reported Jan. 14.