Lawson in Talks to Buy at Least 3 Competitors in China


Lawson Inc, Japan's second-largest convenience store chain, is in talks to buy at least three operators in China in its first overseas acquisition as the company looks to faster growing markets to increase sales.

"There will be a huge opportunity to acquire businesses in China," Chief Executive Officer Takeshi Niinami said in an interview in Tokyo on Tuesday, declining to name any targets. "We are negotiating with more than three or four parties."

Niinami is in discussions with an operator of an 800-store chain and another with 150 in China, to help meet his target of opening 10,000 outlets in the country by 2020.

Rival chains are also expanding outside Japan in Asia, where relatively young populations are boosting demand for neighborhood stores, as demand eases in their home market with a falling population.

"There are a lot of domestic players with stores, but they don't have the supply chain," Niinami said, referring to China. "They don't know what to do. But they want to sell eventually."

The Tokyo-based company has set aside about $300 million for overseas acquisitions, Niinami said. Lawson had 73.5 billion yen ($889 million) in cash and near-cash items as of Nov 30, 3.7 percent less than a year earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Lawson dropped 1.4 percent to 5,100 yen as of 2:31 pm in Tokyo trading, paring its gain this year to 6.1 percent. The stock advanced 20 percent in 2011.

The store operator had about 355 outlets in China's Shanghai, Chongqing and Dalian as of February, according to Shin Ichikawa, a Lawson spokesman. Seven & I Holdings Co's 7-Eleven chain, Lawson's bigger Japanese rival, has about 1,792 stores in China and more than 7,000 in the United States, according to its website.

FamilyMart Co, the third-biggest convenience-store chain in Japan, has most of its outlets overseas. Chiba, Japan-based Ministop Co said last month it will enter Kazakhstan as its fifth overseas market.

Japan's population, on the decline since 2006, is poised to reach 125.7 million next year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The nation's population stood at 126.5 million in 2011.

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