Asda moves closer to stock market listing with £4 billion pensions deal

Asda took a major step towards becoming a public company on Friday as bosses sold nearly £4 billion of the supermarket’s pension liabilities.

The grocer’s parent company, Walmart, which failed in its attempts to merge with Sainsbury’s earlier this year, will sell the scheme for 12,300 current and former workers to Rothesay Life, a specialist pensions insurer.

The scheme is separate from the Asda Pension Plan, a defined contribution scheme, which provides ongoing pension arrangements to the majority of Asda staff.

Asda boss Roger Burnley
Asda boss Roger Burnley (Asda/PA)

Before the deal, which is expected to be completed within 12 to 18 months, Asda will make a final £800 million contribution into the fund.

Walmart said it will need to book a 2.2 billion dollar (£1.7 billion) charge over the deal, but bosses will hope offloading the huge pension liabilities will make it a more attractive offer for future investors on the stock market.

Roger Burnley, chief executive of Asda, said: “This transaction is an excellent outcome for our scheme members – and for Asda and Walmart.

“We have supported the scheme over many decades through significant cash contributions.

“That funding, combined with strong stewardship by the scheme’s trustees, has resulted in the very positive situation where the scheme can now be transferred to an A+ rated insurance company.”

Rothesay Life has £36 billion assets under management across its portfolio, covering 770,000 pension scheme members, and the deal with Asda will make it the largest specialist annuity provider in the UK.

Richard Mayfield, executive vice-president and chief financial officer of Walmart International, said: “This transaction is good news for members of the scheme, simplifies the Asda balance sheet, and will transfer our pension liabilities at a competitive price.”

Mr Burnley has previously said Walmart was “minded” to launch a stock market listing, although this would probably take between two and three years.

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