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Private equity eyes Kaufhof, Karstadt merger-sources

FRANKFURT, March 21 (Reuters) - Financial investors are interested in acquiring Metro's department store chain Kaufhof and Arcandor's Karstadt chain, aiming to merge them into one, two people familiar with the matter said on Sunday. "Metro is already in talks with private equity firms, who are also interested in Karstadt," one of the people said. German Sunday paper Bild am Sonntag reported without citing sources that U.S. investors were among those interested in buying the two rival department store chains. A Metro spokesman said: "We repeatedly speak with those interested in making a deal like that. There are no concrete sales negotiations at this time." Metro Chief Executive Eckhard Cordes said in the company's annual report that Kaufhof's potential could be better exploited in a partnership but he also said that Metro would only sell Kaufhof "when the time is right and the price is right". Previous attempts to create what has been dubbed German department store Inc have failed. In 2008, Arcandor Chief Executive Thomas Middelhoff wanted to buy Kaufhof to merge it with Karstadt and last year Metro had offered to take over parts of Karstadt's 120 stores to merge with its own 113 Kaufhof department stores in the run-up to Arcandor's collapse in June. The deal failed as Arcandor wanted to keep the group together as a whole. Karstadt's insolvency administrator also wants to sell the department store chain as a whole. He needs to find a buyer by the end of April for an insolvency plan to become effective. Otherwise, the business will be broken up. In February, six interested parties were examining Karstadt's books. (Reporting by Alexander Huebner and Eva Kuehnen in Frankfurt, Matthias Inverardi in Duesselfor; Editing by Hans Peters) Keywords: METRO/KAUFHOF (nicola.leske@thomsonreuters.com; +49 69 7565 1214; Reuters Messaging: nicola.leske.reuters.com@reuters.net) COPYRIGHT Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved.

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