Asian retail giants play ball with Austrian investor Benko

VIENNA, Dec 21 () - Japanese retail giant Aeon Co and top Thai retailer Central Group have teamed up with Austrian investor Rene Benko to help expand his online sports retail business in Asia before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Aeon will take a 7.5 percent stake in Benko's Signa Sports Group, and Central Group will buy a 4 percent stake, Signa said on Friday. The companies will issue new shares to finance the deal, it added, without giving further details.

The three firms have also agreed a strategic partnership to develop an e-commerce platform for one of the fastest growing online sports retail markets in the world, paving the way for Europe-focused Benko to expand into the Asian market.

"Our strategic investment and partnership with Signa Sports United comes at the right time for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020," he added.

The deal comes after a consortium led by China's Anta Sports made a 4.6 billion euro ($5.25 billion) offer this month to buy Finnish sporting goods company Amer Sports .

Signa Sports combines German sporting goods retailer Karstadt Sports and some e-commerce activities including Outfitter, internetstores, Probikeshop and Tennis-Point.

"This is a major step forward for our group," said Signa Sports Chief Executive Stephan Zoll in a statement.

"Global expansion is part of Signa Sports United's long-term strategy and we are grateful for this partnership."

Benko made a name for himself as a property investor. He diversified into the retail business in the past few years and recently advanced into the media business.

Benko's sporting goods retail activities posted sales of 650 million euros last year. They are part of Signa Retail, which generates sales of around 7.5 billion euros ($8.6 billion) and is currently merging Germany's largest department stores Karstadt and Kaufhof.

Aeon, which operates in 14 Asian countries, forecasts revenue of $78 billion this year.

Family-owned Central Group expects annual sales of $12 billion. The shopping centre specialist has an ambitious five-year e-commerce strategy and has partnered with leading retail companies including Chinese e-commerce giant JD.Com and Sweden's furniture retailer Ikea.

($1 = 111.2100 yen)

($1 = 0.8754 euros)

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