MEXICO CITY — Mexican retailer Coppel is emerging as the strongest bidder for ailing Suburbia, the mass-market apparel chain that the Mexican subsidiary of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has put on the selling block for as much as $1.7 billion, analysts said.
“I see an 80 percent chance for Coppel, a 15 percent chance for Liverpool and a 5 percent chance for Sears [de Mexico],” said Gaspar Quijano, an analyst with Mexican broker Vector Casa de Bolsa. He added that Coppel’s low-to-middle-class consumer target fits perfectly with Suburbia, whose clothing caters to Mexico’s dominant low-income segment. He added the deal could close by April.
The market has speculated that leading department-store network Liverpool would swoop on Suburbia to integrate the chain with its struggling Fábricas de Francia arm. However, in recent weeks, the appeal of such a transaction appears to have diminished amid doubts that Suburbia’s locations would help boost Liverpool’s fortunes and growing views that Liverpool intends to focus on a higher-end clientele.
“Suburbia has stores right next to Liverpool, so this could bring direct cannibalization and trigger concerns from competition authorities,” said Actinver analyst Carlos Hermosillo. “Coppel is a much better fit. It also has a very strong cash position and revenue flow that puts it in an ideal place to make acquisitions.”
With nearly 1,300 stores, Coppel has grown by selling fashion-forward yet inexpensive garments to Mexico’s budget-conscious consumers through aggressive credit products. The chain bought the ailing Viana department store last spring for an undisclosed amount to further cement its lead in Mexico, where 2015 same-store sales were set to leap 20 percent to 10.8 billion pesos, or $608 million at current exchange.
A Coppel spokesman declined to comment.
Hermosillo estimated Suburbia is worth 10.5 times 2016 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — about 20 billion pesos, or $1.1 billion at current exchange, the low end of a 20 billion to 30 billion-peso ($1.7 billion) market value range.
A third analyst said Liverpool has informed market sources that “it is no longer looking at Suburbia,” operated by Wal-Mart’s Mexican and Central American unit Walmex. “This is a very battered brand. Anyone interested in it would really want it for its locations and these are not attractive for Liverpool,” said the analyst, who requested anonymity.
Hermosillo said billionaire Carlos Slim’s restructuring retail venture Grupo Carso is too busy remodeling its Sanborns, Sears and Saks Fifth Avenue units to consider Suburbia. Meanwhile, electronic goods chain Elektra, another purported bidder for Suburbia, does not have the financing muscle to pursue such a large transaction.
Analysts expect Liverpool to be focused on a possible purchase of a 50 percent stake in Chilean peer Ripley, which they noted could happen this year as it has expressed an interest in expanding into South America.
Liverpool’s investor relations director Jose Antonio Diego would not comment on Suburbia. He said the company has held talks with Ripley but that “there is nothing new in the negotiations.”
Walmex has reportedly hired Morgan Stanley to advise on the Suburbia divestment, on which Mexican boutique investment bank Execution Finance is also said to be working.