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Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The Wal-Martisation of Brazil?

Yesterday it was announced that here in Brazil, two large supermarket chains, Pão de Açúcar (currently Brazil's largest) and Sendas, the largest in Rio de Janeiro state, where Pão is not very well-established yet, are planning a merger. The details were fuzzy, but it looks like some kind of a share swap and joint operation will be taking place.

Pão de Açúcar (which is the trading name of its parent, Companhia Brasileira de Distribuição, a public company traded in New York [quote]) currently has 446 stores in Brazil; family-held Sendas has 79. Combined operations will give the new company 525 stores, more than twice as many as their nearest competitor (French Carrefour, which, however, has about similar turnover to Pão at present).

Enter Wal-mart. At present, Wal-Mart has a toe in the door here, with 22 shops and R$1.75bn in turnover (Pão R$10.8bn, Sendas R$2.52bn). But Wal-Mart is considered front-runner in acquiring No. 3 retailer Bompreço from troubled Dutch group Ahold. CBD would like to have Bompreço, but the market considers it too much of a debt burden on CBD for them to buy the chain outright from Ahold, who need the cash. Wal-Mart presumably doesn't have the same liquidity issues. Buying Bompreço would give Wal-Mart 138 stores and over R$5bn in turnover.

There's a very interesting piece on BBC Brasil today about "little Pão, little Sendas and big Wal-Mart". The author, Lucas Mendes, points out some facts about Wal-Mart in Mexico:

The American giant entered the American market 12 years ago. Today there are more than 600 points-of-sale employing 101,000 people, more than any other business in the country. Their turnover is more than the entire tourism industry.

Their sales represent 2% of Mexican GDP, 30% of all supermarket sales and 6% of all retails sales. They are not only smothering the competition in Mexico. In the US, the numbers are similar.

He then asks the key question:
Will it be that what's good for Mexico will be good for Brazil, or, in Rio, will little Pao and little Sendas beat the Big Wal-Mart.
Lucas points out that the Mexicans and Americans are happy with Wal-Mart, but to me it rather begs the question as to exactly how good this is for Mexico. For now, it looks like Pão/Sendas may be one move ahead of Wal-Mart. Myself, I am surprised that Wal-Mart is moving so slowly (it may be that they are just having trouble growing themselves quickly in Brazil, but that hasn't stopped Wal-Mart before).

[Full disclosure: I am a CBD shareholder]
Where credit is due: the sales / stores figures came from O Globo 8 December 2003

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