Stock in loss-making supermarket chain Laurus rallied after reports that it is planning to sell its Spanish operations.

The Dutch group, the second-largest retailer in the country, saw its highly volatile shares increase to a five-month high of €5.5 (US$4.9) on the back of the report, which was published in national daily Het Financieele Dagblad.

The newspaper quoted “sources close to the company” in revealing that the ailing operations had proved of interest to several national and international retailers and venture capital firms, and that ABN Amro in Spain had been hired to help with the sale.

A Laurus spokeswoman denied to comment on the speculation, however. Sigrid van Amerongen told Reuters that, “we are working very hard to sort things out [with the Spanish stores],” although she insisted, “we don’t comment on this kind of rumour”.

If it goes ahead, the sale will be the second major retrenchment by the company in recent quarters.

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Laurus reported an operating loss of €37m (US$32.9m) for the H1 of 2001 in its Spanish stores, which account for around 14% of group sales. The losses were caused by margin pressure and poor inventory management, leaving a number of market watchers to suggest that Laurus pull out of Spain to concentrate on its Dutch market.