Wal-Mart Moves Closer to Russia

The company registered a subsidiary under the name WM Eastern Europe Holdings and joined the Russian Association of Retail Trade Companies, or AKORT, which includes the 28 largest commercial organizations in the country.

"Wal-Mart is working on the Russian market," Ilya Belonovsky, the executive director of the 28-member industry group said Dec. 29. He declined to elaborate.

Members of the association include French retail giants Carrefour and Auchan, Germany's Metro, as well as local firms X5 Retail Group and Magnit.

In April, Wal-Mart appointed an executive to head its efforts to explore business opportunities in Russia and neighboring markets.

In June, the company said it was "exploring opportunities in Russia," weeks after it acknowledged taking "active steps" to research Russia and nearby countries in Eastern Europe.

A source with an investment bank advising Wal-Mart said Dec. 29 that the U.S. company was in acquisition talks with Russian chains that may need a cash injection.

"It's a very opportune moment for Wal-Mart now that assets are getting cheaper," he said.

The Russian retail sector has been badly hit by a credit squeeze triggered by the global economic crisis, which analysts say could speed up consolidation within the fragmented sector.

A source with a headhunting agency familiar with Wal-Mart's expansion plans in Russia said the U.S. giant had been hiring administrative staff. "There are already about 30 managers working in their team," the source said.

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