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Couche-Tard has a balance sheet that could support acquisitions of up to $2-billion (U.S.), according to one analyst.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/The Globe and Mail

Good thing for shareholders that Alain Bouchard isn't big on sightseeing or pleasure jaunts on his frequent visits to various divisions of his far-flung convenience-store empire.

The head of Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. stays sharply focused on business when he reviews operations in the United States, Canada and Europe, he said in a recent website video interview aboard his private jet.

These days, seeing to the integration of 2,300 outlets in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe after last year's $2.6-billion (U.S.) acquisition of Statoil Fuel & Retail is a job requiring his undivided attention.

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Investors will want an update on how the fold-in of Statoil is progressing when Laval, Que.-based Couche-Tard releases second-quarter results Tuesday.

"Better than expected top-line growth and margins in Europe could be a significant catalyst for the share price in the near-term," Credit Suisse analyst David Hartley said in a recent research report.

Canaccord Genuity analyst Derek Dley said in a recent note that he is confident the company can reach its targeted $150-million to $200-million in synergies from the Statoil deal by the end of 2015.

But in another second-quarter lookahead, Martin Landry of GMP Securities said he expects flat gross profit in Europe, offset by higher U.S. gas margins as well as tight cost controls. At the same time, he anticipates "accelerating synergies realization from the [Statoil] acquisition and additional acquisition opportunities in both North America and Europe, [suggesting] a continued bright growth outlook."

Is another big takeover in the works?

A top candidate is U.S. petroleum giant Hess Corp.'s store-gasbar network of 1,714 units on the East Coast.

Hess is moving to become a pure-play exploration and production company and a pending sale of the retail unit is the object of much speculation.

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Couche-Tard shares – which have risen 18 per cent over the past two-and-a-half months – already appear to have built in a potential acquisition of Hess's retail assets, said Mr. Hartley, whose second-quarter earnings-per-share forecast is $1.34.

Mr. Landry said Couche-Tard has a balance sheet that could support acquisitions of up to $2-billion; his Q2 estimate is $1.27. Mr. Dley has a $1.23 EPS estimate. The consensus second-quarter forecast is $1.09.

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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