- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to hire up to 150,000 employees in China over the next five years, five times its current work force there, as it expands its number of stores, the company said yesterday.

Wal-Mart has targeted China, which has long been a major supplier of its products, as a key region for its international growth.

It now has 56 stores there with about 30,000 employees and plans to open 20 more stores this year.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amy Wyatt declined to say how many stores the Bentonville, Ark., retailer will add in the long term. Wal-Mart generally makes public projections only one year at a time for its new-store plans in the U.S. and internationally.

“We could hire as many as 150,000 [new employees] in the next five years,” she said.

The news comes less than a week after Wal-Mart moved to expand in another fast-growing region, Central America, by taking a majority stake in a regional retail chain that it bought into in September. Wal-Mart took over Central American Retail Holding Co., also known as CARHCO, for an undisclosed price.

Wal-Mart bought about $18 billion in goods from China in 2004, the last year for which it has released numbers, Ms. Wyatt said.

The region is a key part of Wal-Mart’s strategy of growing internationally, where it is active in 15 countries including China, Japan and South Korea in Asia, Britain and Germany in Europe, Canada, Mexico and eight countries in Latin America.

Wal-Mart does not provide a country-by-country breakdown of international financial results. The total international division accounted for about 20 percent of last year’s overall net sales of $312.4 billion.

But Wal-Mart’s international division is growing faster than its larger U.S. operations. In 2005, the international business saw net sales and operating income rise 11.4 percent, compared with 9.4 percent for sales and 8.2 percent for operating income at the U.S. division without Sam’s Clubs.

Late last year Wal-Mart extended its global business by buying 140 Sonae stores in Brazil and increasing its stake to a majority in Japan’s Seiyu Ltd., which has 405 stores.

Wal-Mart’s international side had more than 450,000 employees last year, compared with more than 1.3 million at 3,400 stores in the United States. It added about 23,000 Central American employees with this year’s majority stake in CARHCO.

Wal-Mart shares rose $1.07, or 2.3 percent, to close at $47.76 on the New York Stock Exchange. Its shares have traded in a 52-week range of $42.33 to $51.76.

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