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Couche-Tard to buy 18 convenience stores in Texas as CFO suddenly resigns

Raymond Pare has been with Couche-Tard for 13 years, including seven as CFO

Alimentation Couche-Tard reassured investors Wednesday that the sudden resignation of its chief financial officer doesn't signal a financial problem or disagreement within the convenience store company.

"There are no accounting irregularities or we would have disclosed those,'' CEO Brian Hannasch said during a conference call.

He said the company continues to perform well and is supported by a very strong financial team.

Raymond Paré will leave the company Thursday to "pursue other interests and spend more time with his family.''

He has been with the Couche-Tard for 13 years, including about seven as CFO. Hannasch will handle financial and investor issues until a replacement is found, while Paré will remain available to ensure a smooth transition.

Both men said the resignation, which had been in discussion for several weeks, wasn't prompted by any internal disagreement over big moves made in recent years.

"Ray has been an intimate part of all those key decisions and been very much aligned,'' Hannasch told analysts and the news media.

He said Paré was instrumental in the company's growth through key acquisitions including Statoil Fuel & Retail in northern Europe and The Pantry in the United States.

Pare declined to disclose his next career move but said he remains a "very big believer'' in Quebec-based Couche-Tard.

"The culture, the DNA of the company is well-established and I have no doubt ... that the trend of the success of this company will continue,'' he said.

Hannasch doesn't expect the search for Pare's replacement will take long and gave assurances that the process won't slow its acquisition activities.

As one of Canada's most valuable companies with operations in 23 countries,  Couche-Tard will be looking for someone who has a more strategic outlook than would have been the case 15 years ago, he said.

"Ideally if we can find someone bilingual that would be one of our key search criteria but there are a lot of attributes we're looking for and we're open to where they come from as long as they can fill those attributes.''

Analyst Irene Nattel of RBC Capital Markets said Pare's sudden departure was not ``optimal'' but the conference call reinforced her view that Pare's departure isn't ``a harbinger of bad news on the financial front.''

Meanwhile, Couche-Tard announced Wednesday that it is expanding its reach in the southern United States with a deal to buy 18 convenience stores operating under the Texas Star brand.

The deal also includes two Subway stores and a dealer fuel supply network in the southern part of Texas. The purchase price was not disclosed.

The convenience stores will be converted to the Circle K brand and will continue to sell Shell and CITGO-branded fuel. The deal is expected to close by next April.

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