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Wal-Mart looks at growing overseas operations

/ Source: The Associated Press

Wal-Mart is actively seeking acquisitions abroad, including in Russia, as its low-price formula helps it pick up market share and customers in the global recession.

"We're well positioned for growth," Wan Ling Martello, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Wal-Mart, told reporters at a media conference Thursday, the day before the company's annual shareholder meeting.

Sales in Wal-Mart's international business, which now accounts for almost 25 percent of its revenue, rose 9.1 percent to $98.6 billion in its latest fiscal year, which ended Jan. 31. The company operates 10 different formats like hypermarkets and supermarkets under more than 60 store banners. About 80 percent of Wal-Mart's international business is from acquisitions, Martello said.

The company's latest big acquisition overseas was D&S, the Chile-based food retailer, which announced in February. Wal-Mart has said its emerging markets have bigger growth potential.

Martello noted that as the recession has expanded globally, consumers worried about unemployment and higher debt have consolidated their shopping trips and gravitated toward in-store brands. They also are seeking bargains online.

Vicente Trius, who formerly led Wal-Mart's Asia market and became president and CEO of the company's Latin America division last week, noted that in Japan, shoppers are very sensitive to price.

So Wal-Mart's Seiyu operation has responded by keeping its prices between 5 percent and 10 percent lower than its local competition.

In particular, Wal-Mart is focusing on underserved consumers and has exported its Bodega Express format from Mexico to Puerto Rico.

It also is expanding its Internet operations globally. Trius noted that the company's Brazilian Web site, which launched in July 2008 and offers 15,000 items, has attracted 10.5 million visitors.