November 21, 2018 / 12:51 AM / a month ago

Australia's Coles rises up to 7 percent on trading debut as broader market wilts

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s second-biggest grocery chain, Coles Group Ltd (COL.AX), traded as a standalone listed company for the first time in over a decade on Wednesday, with its shares rising as much as 7 percent by the midday break.

The Coles (main Wesfarmers brand) logo is seen on a facade of a Coles supermarket in Sydney, Australia, February 20, 2018. Picture taken February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

The 104-year-old mainstay of Australian life had since 2007 been owned by conglomerate Wesfarmers Ltd (WES.AX), which in March decided to spin off the A$17 billion supermarket operator to pursue higher-growth investments.

Its shares traded within a range forecast by analysts, even as the broader share market sank to its lowest level in 21 months following a sell-down in U.S. markets overnight.

A Coles cashier of 51 years rang a bell before a gathering of Coles executives, staff and media at the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), after which the shares began trading at A$12.49 giving the firm a market value of A$17.27 billion ($12.48 billion). They rose as high as A$13.37 by mid-session.

Wesfarmers shares were down 0.7 percent, in line with the broader market decline.

“It doesn’t matter where you want to hide, these are tough yards for large listed companies but that’s probably smack bang in the middle of our expectations,” said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut Ltd, which has shares in Coles and Wesfarmers.

The country’s biggest listing of the year came amid a turbulent time for brick-and-mortar retail. Grocers like Coles and larger Woolworths Group Ltd (WOW.AX) have been struggling to protect a once-tight duopoly from discounters such as Germany’s ALDI Inc, while discretionary retailers are reeling from the arrival of online giant Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O).

Australian shoppers’ spending capacity is meanwhile wilting as a result of persistent wage stagnation, contributing to the biggest downturn of house prices in a generation.

Coles Chief Executive Steven Cain said the main benefit of the firm having its own listing was the independence to steer its way through choppy conditions.

“The big difference now is that we’ve got our own board (and) the board has been handpicked to help us navigate what’s ahead over the next five years,” Cain told media at the ASX gathering

Cain added that he was unconcerned about listing in a period of share market volatility, saying, “It’s been soft for a month or more; we’re here for the long term.”

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Additional reporting by Aditya Soni and Chandini Monnappa in BENGALURU; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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