Wolseley mulls French options

Wolseley, the FTSE 100-listed building giant behind Plumb Center, is exploring "strategic options" for its business in France, with an outright sale thought to be the preferred option.

Alternatively, the world's largest supplier of plumbing materials may look to retain a smaller presence in the country by selling only part of its French assets or by hiving the business off into a joint venture.

Wolseley's Réseau Pro chain represents most of its business in France, where the group is the second-largest distributor of building materials. However, with only about 7 per cent of the French market, it trails far behind the industry leader Saint-Gobain, which accounts for about a quarter.

Wolseley referred to continuing "difficult market conditions" on the Continent but its relatively small share of the French market is also thought to be a factor, contributing to a profit margin there which is about half the group's average.

"Wolseley's strategy is to focus on businesses where it can establish leading positions in attractive markets and consistently generate good returns for shareholders," a company spokesman said.