June 6, 2014, 9:42 AM

A top 10 global e-retailer files to go public in the U.S.

With annual e-commerce sales of $5.63 billion, mostly in France and Brazil, Cnova files an IPO to raise funds for global expansion.

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Cnova NV, the online retailing arm of French chain retailer Groupe Casino, is the latest big e-commerce company looking to go public on the U.S. stock market.

Cnova, which claims to be the largest e-commerce company in France and among the largest in Brazil, filed an initial public offering document yesterday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The company says it plans to raise as much as $100 million in new working capital, although that figure is likely a placeholder; companies going public often revise that figure after they have met with potential investors.

The company will use the funds it raises to grow its international e-commerce business, its global fulfillment platform and for other purposes. “Our strategy is expansion of our international footprint with planned businesses in new geographies and launch of new specialty web sites to help us capture a wider demographic,” the company says in its public filing.

Cnova is a diversified e-commerce company that is part of Groupe Casino, No. 5 in the Internet Retailer 2014 Europe 500. In 2013 Cnova, operator of CDDiscount.com in France, which sells a variety of products from apparel and appliances to furniture and wine, posted a net loss of $42.7 million (31.4 million euros) on revenue of $5.63 billion (3.94 billion euros). That compared with a net loss of $30.9 million (22.7 million euros) on revenue of $3.93 billion (2.89 billion euros) in 2012.

Based on data from Top500Guide.com, Cnova is the seventh-largest online retailer in the world. The six larger companies, with their home countries are: Amazon.com Inc. (U.S.), Apple Inc., (U.S.), JD.com (China), Staples Inc. (U.S.), Walmart.com (U.S.) and Otto Group (Germany.)

The IPO filing reveals that the biggest part of Cnova is its French operation. In France, net sales increased year over year 9.5% to $3.93 billion (2.89 billion euros) from 3.59 billion (2.64 billion euros). Web sales for Cnova’s Brazilian e-commerce operation increased net sales8.4% to $2.037 billion (1.47 billion euros) in 2013 from $1.880 billion (1.36 billion euros) in 2012.

Across all its sites Cnova says it carries an inventory of 9.2 million products and has an active base of 11.7 million customers. In addition to CDDiscount in France, Cnova also operates Extra.com.br, a Brazilian consumer electronics e-commerce site, and PontoFrio.com and Casasbahia.com.br, a pair of Brazilian electronics and home furnishings sites.

The company is bent on global e-commerce expansion, according to Cnova’s IPO filing. So far in 2014 the company has launched versions of CDDiscount.com in Vietnam, Thailand and Colombia. “We plan to expand into additional markets in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa,” the company says in its IPO filing. “Our expansion strategy is focused on countries with close proximity to markets in which we currently have a presence, in which the Casino Groupe operates or in which we can establish strategic partnerships with third parties.”

Cnova has yet to announce any terms of its IPO, such as price per share.

Cnova is the fourth big international e-commerce company or online retailer to file an IPO in the U.S. in the past month. In May, Chinese mass merchant JD.com raised $1.78 billion by selling 93.7 million shares at $19 per share and on May 16 Jumei, the leading online cosmetics retailer in China, priced its IPO of 11,140,000 shares at $22.00 for a total offering size of approximately $245.1 million. But the biggest recent filing of all international e-commerce companies occurred on May 6 when Chinese marketplace operator Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. filed for an IPO with plans to raise at least $1 billion and by some Wall Street analyst estimates as much as $15 billion.

Despite the spate of big international e-commerce companies looking to go public on Wall Street, at least one investment banker says it’s too early to call it a trend. Going public in the U.S. is attractive to some foreign e-commerce companies because the U.S. stock market is established with clear-cut procedures and accounting practices that are more transparent than those in some other countries, says Eric Roth, a managing director at financial advisory firm Lazard Middle Market, who advises e-commerce and multichannel retail companies. “There’s more global acceptance on going public in the U.S. than on some foreign exchanges,” he says.

Wall Street generally likes big e-commerce IPOs but Roth doesn’t see the most recent moves to go public by Cnova, JD.com, Jumei and Alibaba as a distinct trend. “It’s more like a spate of recent activity that may be pointing the way but not an established trend,” Roth says. “These are multi-billion dollar deals that take time to develop.”

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