Walmart Japan's new CEO: Seiyu 'absolutely' not for sale

FILE PHOTO: The logos of Walmart and Seiyu are pictured at the headquarters office in Tokyo, Japan, July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - The newly appointed chief executive of Walmart Inc's Japanese supermarket chain Seiyu on Monday denied the business was up for sale, following reports last year that the U.S. retail giant was looking for a buyer.

"I'm not here to sell a business," Lionel Desclee told reporters in Tokyo in his first public remarks since his appointment on Friday. "Absolutely not at all."

Japanese media reported last year that Walmart considered selling Seiyu, and that a sale could amount to around 300 billion to 500 billion yen ($2.69 billion to $4.48 billion).

Desclee, who has worked for European food retailer Delhaize Group and was previously CEO of pet shop chain Tom & Co, said he was too new in the job to discuss strategy but was sure that a sale was not in the works.

He joked of "sleepless nights" as he read media reports of a possible sale just as he was considering the Tokyo job.

"Thanks to this article I did thoroughly discuss Walmart's intentions," he said, adding that officials in Bentonville, Arkansas, assured him that he was being hired to grow, rather than sell, the Japanese business.

Walmart first entered the Japanese market in 2002 by buying a 6 percent stake in Seiyu, and gradually built up its stake before a full takeover in 2008.

Japan has proven a difficult market for many foreign entrants such as Tesco PLC and Carrefour SA. Consumers demand fresh food and high levels of customer service in a highly competitive industry where margins are razor thin after years of deflation.

Under Walmart, Seiyu has closed unprofitable stores. It also launched an online grocery venture with Rakuten Inc last year, although it meets tough competition from rivals which will include Amazon's Fresh service.

(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Christopher Cushing)