A report by ING has caused a little uproar in Belgium, as it was misquoted as saying “Carrefour is leaving the country.” Three specialists in the field of the Belgian food retail shed their light on the report and Carrefour's activities in Belgium.
What is really going on?
The basis of the report is its changed advice to 'hold' – instead of 'sell' – Carrefour shares, as the analysts expected interesting statements on CEO elect Georges Plassat's inaugural speech in July, concerning the future he sees for his company.
The report also takes a stab at what Plassat will announce: in order to save the company, Carrefour will have to focus on its core business (the French home market, securing 43,2% of worldwide turnover in 2011) and a few interesting opportunities (Brazil and China).
By consequence, 'less interesting markets' will have to be cut, according to the report. ING names Argentina, Italy, Malaysia, Poland, Romania, Taiwan and Turkey as the most probable candidates to be exited. Again: this has only been ING's assessment, Carrefour has thus far remained completely silent on the matter.
Unlikely exit from Belgium
Imprecise reading however stirred unrest in Belgum, when claims were made that Carrefour was to exit Belgium as well. Specialists however think this is “less likely to happen”: Marketing Map's Chris Opdebeeck was quoted saying that “Plassat will certainly take his time to thoroughly investigate the situation, before making such a major decision.”
Retail expert Gino Van Ossel does not believe Belgium would be affected by Carrefour's possible exiting strategy. “Two years ago, the chain has closed its worst-performing hypermarkets in our country. Now Carrefour Belgium is doing a lot better again.”
“After seven consecutive quarters with a negative turnover growth, the chain now realised four quarters in a row with a positive growth”, confirms Chris Opdebeeck, although he grants that “the basis for comparison, the disastrous year 2010, made positive growth in 2011 easier.”
Not enough potential for growth
“Gérard Lavinay has done well as CEO of Carrefour Belgium, especially taking into account the very difficult circumstances” agrees retail expert Jorg Snoeck. “The excellent recovery might be a good moment for Carrefour to attract buyers for their Belgian activities, but that scenario remains very unlikely. I would say there is not enough potential for growth here to attract investors.”
The experts also consider it unlikely that Ahold (Albert Heijn) will buy Carrefour Belgium: professor Van Ossel points to the fact that the hypermarkets, Carrefour's main strength, are not in line with Ahold's policy: “they do not want such big stores.”
Not a surprise, nor a real first
Even though the experts consider ING's analysis of Carrefour possibly leaving Belgium highly unlikely, they are very careful about it: “I will not say the analysis is completely untrue”, says RetailDetail founder Jorg Snoeck. “Their analysts keep a close eye on the markets and they know very well what is going on.”
Should Carrefour decide to leave one or more of their foreign markets, it will certainly not come as a big surprise, nor will it be a first. Carrefour has left Russia and Algeria in 2009 – the latter was replaced with Morocco – while at the same time preparing an exit out of Portugal, one of the chain's very first foreign attempts. Either way, Belgium will not be the most logical victim of such an operation.