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Wal-Mart to double China outlets by 2006

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's biggest retailer, plans to more than double its outlets in China and run 90 stores by the end of 2006, a senior executive said on Monday, as it fights to expand market share.
/ Source: Reuters

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's biggest retailer, plans to more than double its outlets in China and run 90 stores by the end of 2006, a senior executive said on Monday, as it fights to expand market share.

Wal-Mart, like rivals Carrefour S.A. and Metro A.G., has been building stores in Asia's largest retail market after Japan at a rapid clip, taking advantage of growing incomes and a gradually liberalising retail industry.

Lawrence Lee, regional operations director for eastern China, also told Reuters later that the Arkansas-based U.S. giant expected to post double-digit revenue growth in the country in 2005, though he declined to give specifics.

According to China's commerce ministry, Wal-Mart posted a 31 percent leap in sales in the country to 7.6 billion yuan ($940 million) in 2004.

Lee added that Wal-Mart did not intend for now to take advantage of new freedoms for foreign players, after a requirement that they find a local partner was abolished in late 2004.

"We expect double-digit growth this year but we have no plans to go solo so far, because our local partner knows the market better," Lee told Reuters after a news conference.

Wal-Mart will operate 55 stores in China by the end of this year, versus 43 at the end of last year. But that's still a fraction of the roughly 5,000 the retailer has worldwide.

Carrefour lags Wal-Mart globally but leads in China. The French retailer has said it planned to open 15 hypermarkets a year.

Hypermarkets stocking everything from personal computers to bicycles and pet food are still a relative novel concept to much of the world's seventh-largest economy, but slick foreign outlets are fast springing up across the country alongside booming growth.

Wal-Mart intends to launch its first store in Shanghai on Thursday. It had previously steered clear of China's commercial hub and richest city, the country's most saturated and intensely competitive retail market.