International News - Ahold withdrawal may be key to Wal-Mart expansion

Ahold's plan to sell its Brazilian retail chains within the next three months may be key to Wal-Mart's strategy in the country.

Bom Preco and G Barbose were put up for sale in April and the deadline for bids is the end of July.

Carrefour and local retailer Cia Brasileira de Distribuicao (CBD) have identified themselves as possible contenders but no official bids have been placed. Alberto Serrentino, senior partner at broker Gouvea de Souza, said Wal-Mart is also thought to be interested.

He believed the businesses could be vital if Wal-Mart intends to take a firm foothold in Brazil. 'Wal-Mart's presence in our market has been quite shy and limited,' he said. 'There have been rumours for a while that sooner or later they would make a major acquisition and leverage their operations.'

Serrentino thought that organic growth by Wal-Mart in Brazil would not deliver growth in sufficient scale.

A Wal-Mart acquisition of both Ahold businesses would increase its market share in food retail from 2.1 per cent to 7.3 per cent, making significant ground on market leaders Carrefour, which has 12.6 per cent, and CBD with 14.6 per cent.

- Ahold has also uncovered further 'intentional accounting irregularities' at its US business.

The Tops Markets chain is at the centre of the new problem and a reduction in pre-tax earnings of US$29 million (£17.7 million) is expected.