Global Economy

Walmart puts sale of majority stake in UK chain Asda on hold as coronavirus upends grocery industry

Shoppers gather outside an ASDA store from 5.45am on March 19, 2020 in Cardiff, United Kingdom.

Matthew Horwood | Getty Images

Walmart has paused efforts to sell a majority stake in U.K grocer Asda, so it can direct full attention to managing the business as the coronavirus pandemic creates massive spikes in demand for groceries, according to people familiar with the matter.

The people requested anonymity because the negotiations are confidential. A spokesperson for Walmart declined to comment.

Asda had attracted significant interest from private equity firms, who were eyeing the grocer at a valuation at as much as $9 billion, the people said. It could not be immediately determined when Walmart might resume the sale, but it is not under a rush, a person familiar with the matter told CNBC. Its focus now is on freeing its leadership team up to run the business.

The pause in the sale process highlights the unprecedented landscape in which grocery stores are operating, with shoppers buying in bulk and putting pressure on supply chains. In the U.S., major grocers have expedited their hiring processes to help deal with that demand. 

Walmart plans to hire 150,000 employees to keep up with demand. The retailer had hired nearly 50,000 employees as of late Monday, and it’s been averaging about 5,000 new hires a day, said Dan Bartlett, Walmart’s executive vice president of corporate affairs.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

CNBC’s Melissa Repko contributed to this report



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