June 17, 2020 / 11:03 AM / 2 months ago

French retailer Conforama nears buyout after virus hit

PARIS (Reuters) - French furniture chain Conforama said on Wednesday it was close to finding a new owner, one of several retailers in France that have been seeking new investors as they have struggled to secure state aid to help them cope with the coronavirus crisis.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Conforama is seen at the company store in Proville near Cambrai, France, July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

Clothing stores and household goods sellers were hit hard by lockdowns to fight the virus, compounding challenges in the sector such as growing competition from online shopping sites.

Retailers in France had also struggled with anti-government protests and transport strikes before the virus erupted.

Many have failed to secure government-backed loans to help them deal with the fallout from the pandemic as banks questioned whether their problems predated the coronavirus crisis.

Conforama, owned by South Africa’s Steinhoff (SNHJ.J) and employing 8,000 people in France, had said it was in talks to be taken over by Mobilux, the parent company behind rival chain But, confirming an report by BFM Business.

“There is no firm agreement at this stage and the discussions are ongoing,” a Conforama spokeswoman said.

Separately, French retail holding company Cafom (CAFO.PA) said it was in exclusive talks to sell Habitat, a furniture chain originally founded in Britain, to businessman Thierry Le Guénic.

Cafom had put the chain up for sale in 2019, before the pandemic hit. It did not disclose financial details.

Le Guénic has previously brought brands from France’s Vivarte, another struggling retail group. Vivarte Chief Executive Patrick Puy said this week his group had received 25 bids for its La Halle clothing brand.

“The government has not been very supportive to the retail sector,” Puy told RTL radio on Monday, saying it contrasted with the way state aid was handed to carmaker Renault and national flag carrier Air France.

Reporting by Sarah White; Editing by Edmund Blair

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