PARIS, June 12 (Reuters) - French payments specialist Ingenico said it is looking for an acquisition target in the United States to help it revive sales in what it sees as a fragmented market.
Chief Executive Philippe Lazare said the company could target firms in the U.S. health sector.
"We want to be as comprehensive as possible in the U.S. If we were to find a 'gateway' there, we would be glad to buy one," Lazare told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
He said Ingenico's low debt levels and free cash flow of 248 million euros put it in a strong position to make an acquisition.
Ingenico attracted investor attention in March when media speculated that a unit of French IT consulting firm Atos was preparing an 8 billion euro ($9 billion) takeover bid for Ingenico. Atos denied the reports.
Lazare said opportunities for Ingenico in the United States were rising because of the large number of firms operating in the payment market, from banks to retailers.
Ingenico's sales in North America fell 13 percent last year to 276 million euros, or around 10 percent of its total revenue, but Lazare said the company was targeting stable sales there in 2017 on a like-for-like basis.
The group aimed for 7 percent total sales growth this year at constant exchange rates and on a like-for-like basis, and expected to increase its operating margin (EBITDA) slightly, he said.
($1 = 0.8929 euros)
(Writing by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Susan Fenton)