Thailand's top mall developer is said to study retail arm IPO

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SINGAPORE (July 16): Central Group, one of Thailand’s biggest conglomerates, is studying options including a potential initial public offering of retail assets, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The group is working on a restructuring of its retail operations ahead of a possible IPO as soon as next year, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. The listing could include department store businesses owned by Central, according to one of the people. Any share sale could raise at least US$1 billion, the people said.

A deal that size would be Thailand’s biggest first-time share sale since Jasmine Broadband Internet Infrastructure Fund’s US$1.7 billion IPO in 2015, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Central, which is targeting sales of 397.3 billion baht (US$11.9 billion) this year, gets about 40% of revenue from its department store group, its website shows.

The group operates department stores under the Central and Central Embassy brands, as well as Zen men’s lifestyle stores and SuperSports athletic equipment shops. It’s also the largest shareholder of Bangkok-based department store operator Robinson Pcl. Outside Thailand, it owns Italian department store La Rinascente, Danish retailer Illum and in 2016 it bought the Big C hypermarket chain in Vietnam.

Central, controlled by Thailand’s Chirathivat family, has a business empire that spans retail, property, restaurants and resorts. Its listed arms include Thailand’s largest mall developer, Central Pattana Pcl, which is behind shopping centers including CentralWorld and has a market value of about US$10 billion.

Deliberations are at an early stage, and the group hasn’t made a final decision about which businesses would be included in any listing, the people said. There’s no certainty the deliberations will lead to a transaction, according to the people. A representative for Central declined to comment.

Last year, Central partnered with JD.com Inc, China’s second-largest online mall, to set up two joint ventures worth as much as US$500 million to tap ecommerce and financial technology growth in Thailand. Central said in March it expects to increase its Vietnam footprint to 753 stores by 2022 from 217, and expects to open a mall in Malaysia this year.