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Report: Tesco to face tight regulatory review in Thai business sale

The proposed sale of Tesco PLC's retail operations in Thailand will be kept under close scrutiny by the country's competition watchdog, the Financial Times reported Jan. 8, citing an interview with Sakon Varanyuwatana, chairman of Thailand's Office of Trade Competition Commission.

U.K.-based Tesco started a strategic review of its businesses in Thailand and Malaysia in December 2019 following "inbound interest." The retailer did not disclose further details, but Bloomberg News reported about two weeks later that the Southeast Asian operations attracted interest from Bangkok-based conglomerates Charoen Pokphand Group Co. Ltd. and The Central Group. Neither of the two companies confirmed the report.

According to the FT, Varanyuwatana said he is prepared to impose fines or ban the sale of Tesco Thailand if the company breaches any laws during the sale process.

"We have to consider the operation in 360 degrees and study whether it would have any anti-competitive structure or behavior after the merger or not. ... We have the authority to prohibit the merger or acquisition if we believe it will lead to a monopoly," Varanyuwatana reportedly said.

Both Charoen Pokphand and Central Group have a strong retail presence in Thailand. Charoen Pokphand owns CP ALL Public Co. Ltd., which owns cash-and-carry brand Siam Makro as well as all 7-Eleven Inc. stores across Thailand. Central Group operates department stores and supermarkets in the country and recently gained approval for the planned IPO of its retail arm.

Meanwhile, TCC Group — another Thai conglomerate — could also tender a bid, the FT said, citing people with knowledge of the matter. TCC Group's line of businesses includes beverages, real estate, insurance, finance and agriculture, and it is owned by the family behind brewing company Thai Beverage PCL.

The Thai competition regulator had set up a task force to review the implications of the possible sale of Tesco's operations to the reported bidders, according to the newspaper. However, it is reportedly unclear whether the British retailer will sell its Thai and Malaysian businesses together or separately.

Tesco operates 1,967 stores in Thailand and had a 28% share of the Thai grocery market in 2018, the FT said, citing data from Euromonitor.

Tesco told S&P Global Market Intelligence that it does not have any further comment beyond what it said in December, when it announced the review of the businesses.