The Halley family, the biggest shareholder in Carrefour, is understood to be taking advice from HSBC and Lehman Brothers on how best to respond to the sudden emergence of Bernard Arnault and Colony Capital as rival investors in the French retailer.

The involvement of the two banks comes amid signs that the Halleys are concerned at the way that Mr Arnault, France’s richest man, and Colony Capital, a private equity investor, have formed a new power base behind the scenes at Carrefour, the world’s second-largest retailer by sales.

However, people close to the situation on Thursday night played down the short-term likelihood of the family selling their stake, which is worth about €5bn.

“The Halley family are not very happy with the arrival of the new shareholders,” said one. Another cited concerns about the newcomers gaining creeping control.

The Carrefour board meets this morning to discuss whether or not to endorse a request for two board seats made by Blue Capital, the joint investment vehicle through which Mr Arnault and Colony took a 9.1 per cent stake in Carrefour earlier this month.

Through an agreement with another shareholder, the newcomers control 9.8 per cent of the French company’s stock. This is still some way behind the Halleys, who own about 13 per cent of Carrefour but who control about 20 per cent of the voting rights thanks to company rules favouring long-term investors.

It emerged earlier this week that the Halleys were themselves seeking a third supervisory board seat at Carrefour’s forthcoming annual shareholder meeting – a move that would preserve their leading position on the board of the retailer in the event of Blue Capital gaining two seats.

The arrival of Mr Arnault and Colony has put pressure on Carrefour to unlock money from its portfolio of properties, whose value it estimates at between €15bn and €20bn.

This could be done through the sale of a minority stake in an existing property company, perhaps through a stock market flotation.

However, José Luis Duran, Carrefour chief executive, has warned that selling off stores could also damage the profitability of the grocery business if handled too aggressively.

The three branches of the Halley family that own the stake are the descendants of Paul-Auguste Halley, who founded the grocery chain Promodès, which merged with Carrefour in 1999.

The long-term future of their investment in Carrefour had been the subject of speculation after a rift with Luc Vandevelde, the veteran retailer who used to head their investment vehicle, Citra.

Mr Vandevelde was replaced at Citra by Bernard Bontoux, a family member. The Belgian was also replaced as the chairman of Carrefour by Robert Halley, head of another family branch.

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