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Smart & Final May Be Put Up for Sale : Retailing: The French majority owner wants the money for remodelings overseas. Management says it may attempt a buyout.

July 13, 1993|GEORGE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A French firm said Monday that it may put Smart & Final, the profitable Santa Barbara-based grocery warehouse operator, on the sales block to raise money for remodeling many of its French stores.

Casino USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of French grocery retailer Casino, owns 50.3% of Smart & Final.

In response to the announcement, Smart & Final's top executives are exploring the possibility of making an offer to buy the local warehouse chain.

"A management buyout is one option that will be considered," said Smart & Final Chairman Robert J. Emmons. "We will look at that alternative very carefully. . . . We love the company and believe it has a terrific future."

However, Smart & Final's management would have difficulty raising the financing necessary to win a bidding war for the company, said investment banker Lloyd Greif, head of Los Angeles-based Greif & Co.

Smart & Final stock Monday closed at $17.25, up $1, on heavy trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Casino controls about 10.1 million shares, valued at about $174 million based on Monday's stock close. However, bidders typically offer more than the stock market price for controlling interest in a company, Greif noted.

"Casino doesn't care who buys Smart & Final as long as they get the maximum price," Greif said. "Smart & Final has national growth potential and it's quite profitable."

With 132 stores in California, Arizona and Nevada, Smart & Final reported sales of $371.8 million for the first half of 1993, an increase of 11.2% over the same period last year. The company had earnings of $14.4 million for 1992, a 26% increase over 1991, on sales of $765 million.

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