|Chief Executive Prasert Bunsumpun|
* Carrefour assets will help PTT expand retail business
* Media reports Central Group joining bidding (Adds quotes, details)
By Pisit Changplayngam
RAYONG, Thailand, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Thailand's top energy firm, PTT Pcl (PTT.BK: Quote), said on Wednesday it had put in a bid to buy the Thai operations of French retailer Carrefour SA (CARR.PA: Quote), which analysts expect to fetch about $600 million.
Carrefour, Europe's top retailer, wants to sell its stores in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand at a potential price of $1 billion to focus on markets where it holds leading positions.
In recent years, Carrefour has withdrawn from other Asian countries, including Japan and South Korea, to focus on growing markets such as China and India.
PTT joined an increasingly crowded race: at least four retailers from Europe and Asia have put in first-round bids. [ID:nTOE68004Q]
"We have already submitted a bid for the first round. We are waiting for the next round," Chief Executive Prasert Bunsumpun told reporters.
PTT is participating through its retail subsidiary, PTT Retail Marketing Co. Ltd, which runs Jiffy convenience stores at its gas stations, and this was part of a plan to expand its retail business, Prasert said.
"If we got Carrefour's assets, it would make our retail business bigger and our bargaining power will rise," he said.
PTT, which has almost 1,300 gas stations around Thailand, could seek partners to join forces in the retail business if the Carrefour bid succeeded, Prasert said, without giving more details.
PTT, Thailand's top listed company with a market value of $27 billion, has hired Bangkok-based investment bank Quant Group to advise on the bid, a source at PTT told Reuters.
PTT, which already has a partnership with CP ALL Pcl (CPALL.BK: Quote), allowing it to open 7-Eleven convenience stores by its gas stations, is also looking for assets overseas to boost growth and bolster its presence in international markets.
PLENTY OF BIDDERS
The race for Carrefour's assets in Southeast Asia has drawn in France's Casino Guichard Perrachon SA (CASP.PA: Quote) and Britain's Tesco Plc (TSCO.L: Quote) as well as regional players like Dairy Farm (DAIR.SI:Quote), which runs Giant and Cold Storage chains in Southeast Asia, sources have said.
Japan's second-biggest retail group, Aeon (8267.T: Quote), has also thrown its hat into the ring, sources said last week. [ID:nTKG006851]
Leading Thai conglomerate Berli Jucker Pcl (BJC.BK: Quote), owned by liquor tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhadi, expressed interest last month in bidding for all the Southeast Asian operations.
Thai media has reported that unlisted Central Group, Thailand's largest retail group, controlled by the Chirathivat family, was also keen to bid for the assets, with Morgan Stanley (MS.N: Quote) as adviser. Central Group declined to comment.
In Thailand, Carrefour has a market share of around 2 percent, behind CP All, Tesco and Big C Supercenter (BIGC.BK: Quote), part-owned by Casino, which are the top three retailers, according to a recent RBS research note.
Carrefour has 626 stores in Asia, with 424 in China alone. Of the rest, Indonesia has 76, Taiwan 65, Malaysia 19, Singapore two and Thailand 40, including 39 hypermarkets. ($1=31.17 Baht) (Writing by Khettiya Jittapong; Editing by Alan Raybould)