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Mercator Chairman Expects $Year of Stabilisation$

Ljubljana, 26 February (STA) - The boss of Slovenia's largest retailer, Mercator, announced on Friday that 2010 would be $a year of stabilisation$, after the group saw its profit halved last year to EUR 21.1m.

Mercator expects its earnings this year to be flat as revenues rise by 4% to EUR 2.75bn, Ziga Debeljak told the press in Ljubljana on Friday.

Debeljak, who was given a new term by Mercator's supervisors on Thursday, says it will be a challenging year for the country's top retailer.

"We don't expect marked recovery in any of our markets. This will be a year of stabilisation," he said.

The retail giant generated a third of all its revenues in 2009 on foreign markets and expects to increase this share this year.

Moreover, the group plans to invest EUR 126m this year, which is a slight decrease on 2009. Staff numbers will rise 3.6% to surpass 22,000 this year, as the company starts operations in Kosovo and Macedonia.

After launching shops in these two countries, Mercator will be present on a total of nine markets, covering the entire SE Europe region.

Touching on plans by six banks to sell 21% of Mercator seized from companies affiliated to beverage group Lasko and the troubled Istrabenz holding, Debeljak said that there had been no interest in due diligence by investors so far. "If we receive a request [for due diligence], we will study it carefully."

Debeljak reiterated that, while not involved in the sale, Mercator wanted a stable owner who would support Mercator in its aim to become the biggest retailer in SE Europe.

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