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NEW YORK CITY-Even though retailers might have some tough times ahead, private equity firms are still interested in investing in the industry, said representatives from some of those firms yesterday at Goldman Sachs’ Annual Global Retailing Conference. “One of the reasons that we’re seeing so many opportunities is that the environment is getting more difficult,” said Mike Calbert, a director at New York City-based Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. “The opportunity arises out of this difficult environment.”

The grocery sector is one area that has taken a hit because of competition from discounters like Wal-Mart; mega-chain Albertsons put itself on the block last week. But don’t count out grocery chains just yet, Calbert says. “We think it’s a long-term, viable format,” he said. “It’s always going to be here in one fashion.”

John Roth, a general partner at Los Angeles-based Freeman Spogli & Co., says that a retailer’s financial data aren’t the main thing a firm takes into consideration before making an acquisition. The company’s management team and consumer appeal can be more important, he says. “We’re doing our consumer research,” Roth said. “That doesn’t show up in the numbers.”

Another priority these firms consider is the longevity of a chain, says Ron Burkle, a managing partner at the Los Angeles-based Yucaipa Cos. “We really look at [a retailer] and say, ‘Is it going to be good 10 years from now?’”

The speakers also said that they didn’t have a preference between mall-based and open-air positioned retailers when making an investment decision. “I don’t think the mall is the issue,” Calbert says. “It’s where are the opportunities? Where can we create value?”

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