SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N), the world’s biggest retailer, sees a slow recovery from challenging U.S. business conditions, while its Asia operations are “a little better,” its Chairman Rob Walton said on Friday.
Walton expects Wal-Mart to ride out a sluggish economic recovery in the United States as it gains new customers and market share in the world’s largest economy, while more resilient consumer spending supports its Asian operation.
“Our business in the U.S. is very challenging right now... some of the recent economic news is more pessimistic than expected. We are only expecting a slow recovery in the U.S., nothing extremely fast,” Walton told Reuters in an interview.
“Our business in Asia is a little better than the U.S. We think Asia probably will lead the recovery and we certainly see a recovery occurring in the not too distant future, but it will be slow I believe.”
Walton said Wal-Mart has no immediate plans to open stores in more Asian countries. The firm, which has a market value of $189 billion and competes with Kroger Co (KR.N), Tesco (TSCO.L) and Carrefour (CARR.PA), has already said it will open 50 stores in China.
“I believe we have good potential there as long as we serve our customers there in an effective way. We are off to a good start in China and in India we are off to a good, slow start... In Japan we are doing pretty well as well.”
Wal-Mart teamed up with India’s Bharti Enterprises to open its first store in the country in May, and plans to expand to 10 to 15 stores over the next seven years.
“We are excited about our opportunities in Asia, no plans immediately for additional countries but we never say never,” Walton added.
Retailers in Asia have held up relatively well during the financial crisis compared with their U.S. and European counterparts, pushing investors to look for retail exposure as the region leads a global economic recovery.
The International Monetary Fund projects developing Asia to grow 7.3 percent in 2010, versus 1.5 percent growth for the United States.
Walton said Wal-Mart has been gaining market share in the U.S. amid the recession, as shoppers seek out low prices on everything from food and paper towels to popular electronics.
“I think we can continue to do well, we are gaining market share in this (U.S.) market,” said Walton, whose father founded the company.
Four descendants of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton are in the top 10 of Forbes’ 400 annual list of the wealthiest Americans, with fortunes between $21.5 billion and $19 billion.
U.S. retail sales rose 2.7 percent in August, their fastest pace in 3- years, after declining 0.2 percent in July and offering hope for a recovery from a severe recession.
Still, some government officials and investors remain concerned about the state of the recovery and surveys suggest that U.S. consumers remain mindful of spending.
Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Dhara Ranasinghe