April 26, 2013 / 5:30 PM / 4 years ago

Peru's booming retail sector catches Wal-Mart's eye -sources

* Number of malls in Peru slated to double through 2015

* Retail sales to grow 20 percent this year

* About 75 percent of investment is outside the capital

Por Omar Mariluz

LIMA, April 26 (Reuters) - Peru's fast-growing retail sector, which is now dominated by Chilean companies, is drawing the interest of global chains such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc , industry sources say.

Peruvian retail sales are on track to grow 20 percent this year to $6.9 billion, according to the consultancy Araval, because of wider credit availability and an economy that is forecast to grow 6 percent.

"Wal-Mart's interest in entering the Peruvian market remains very strong," said a source in Lima who is close to the U.S. company and requested anonymity. "Peru has space for more players. There is plenty of capacity and potential."

Wal-Mart already owns a plot of land near Lima, Peru's capital. It came with the company's purchase several years ago of Chilean retailer Distribucion Y Servicios. D&S, as the company is known, does not operate stores in Peru.

"The site was purchased by D&S prior to its acquisition in 2009 by Wal-Mart," a Wal-Mart official in Arkansas said by email. "We have no immediate plans for its use."

The source said two factors may encourage Wal-Mart to come to Peru: the continuing interest of the company's Chilean shareholders, and a recent change in leadership at Wal-Mart in Latin America.

Peru has been one of Latin America's fastest-growing economies over the past decade. Like Chile and Mexico, it has a free-trade agreement with the United States that protects foreign investors.

Wal-Mart already operates 3,668 stores in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica, according to the company.

"The main consideration for a chain like Wal-Mart is the growth potential of the sector," said analyst Carlos Asmat of Scotiabank in Peru.

The market penetration rate of retail stores is only about 15 percent in Peru, compared with 60 percent in Chile and Brazil, industry analysts say. Many people buy their food and clothes at traditional markets.

DOUBLING OF MALLS

Peru's association of shopping centers says a $1.5 billion investment pipeline will double the number of malls in the country to 100 through 2015.

Growing consumer demand has also driven retail operations to expand into Peru's provinces, long ignored by businesses in the capital.

Lima, with 9 million people, generates half of all economic activity in Peru but is home to only a third of the country's population.

About 75 percent of new retail investments target areas outside of the capital as swift economic growth pulls people out of the poverty that afflicts a third of the population.

"Demand is huge in the provinces, but people still need to come to Lima to buy things," said Gonzalo Ansola, a director at ACCEP, Peru's association of shopping centers. "Investors have finally realized this."

Cencosud, a large Chilean conglomerate that also operates in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, recently opened one of its Paris department stores in Peru's second-largest city, Arequipa. It was the first opening of a Paris shop outside of Chile.

Cencosud and rival Ripley Fababella of Chile are the dominant players in Peru, along with the supermarkets and department stores owned by Peruvian financial group Intergroup .

Analysts expect more double-digit growth in the retail sector.

Growth "should be maintained for the next four years at this rate," said Ernesto Aramburu, managing director of the Araval consultancy. "Most people are only now becoming consumers."

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