* Casino pools Latam operations under Colombia’s Exito
* Exito buying half Casino’s GPA voting shares, all of Libertad
* Exito paying total of 1.7 bln euros
* Casino eyes cost savings, savings, cash optimisation from deal
* Casino H1 op profit down 36.2 pct as Brazil, France weigh (Adds details, analyst, shares, cross ref to earnings statement)
By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, July 30 (Reuters) - French retailer Casino is pooling its Latin America operations under Colombian unit Exito in a bid to boost savings and generate more cash.
The move comes as Casino, which makes 60 percent of its sales in emerging markets and controls Brazil’s top retailer Grupo Pao de Acucar, faces slow economic growth in its top market Brazil.
Casino also on Thursday reported a 36.2 percent fall in first-half group operating profit, blaming on losses in France following price cuts.
As part of the Latin American deal, Casino will sell to Exito 50 percent of the voting shares it holds in Grupo Pao de Acucar, representing around 18.8 percent of GPA’s total capital, and 100 percent of Libertad in Argentina, for a total of 1.7 billion euros ($1.9 billion).
This will create a fully consolidated unit with combined sales of 26.5 billion euros and core earnings or EBITDA of 2 billion, able to generate annual synergies of 145 million euros.
The deal, expected to close by end-August, will also help the Casino group to better benefit from the strong cash generation of the Latin American subsidiaries and reduce the group’s debt, which stood at 8.5 billion euros at end-June 2015.
Casino shares, which have retreated in recent weeks from a year’s high near 88 euros set in April, rose 1 percent by 0751 GMT versus a 0.5 percent rise in the European sector.
“Reorganisation in Latin America should be a great catalyst for the stock ... finally optimising the international cash,” Bernstein analysts said in a note.
The deal “pushes some cash directly from the international businesses into France and it moves some of the debt out of France into Latin America, much closer to the source of the cash generation,” they said.
Casino, which owns 54.8 percent of Exito, will remain its controlling shareholder.
Depending on market conditions, Casino said it was leaving the door open to buying shares of its Latin American units in the next months.
$1 = 0.9140 euros Editing by Leigh Thomas and David Holmes