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Wal-Mart's Japan unit sees 6th straight annual loss
By Taiga Uranaka
Tuesday, August 14, 2007; 6:40 AM
TOKYO (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s (WMT.N) Japanese retail unit Seiyu Ltd. (8268.T) said it now expects to post its sixth straight annual loss in 2007 on sluggish sales, but dismissed speculation that the results would prompt Wal-Mart to pull out of Japan.
The world's largest retailer has invested more than $1 billion in the 393-store Japanese supermarket chain since 2002, but has yet to see anything more than temporary upswings in sales amid stiff competition with rivals such as Aeon Co.(8267.T).
The continuing losses have raised speculation that Wal-Mart will either prop up the struggling unit or consider withdrawing from Japan as it did from South Korea and Germany last year.
But Seiyu Chief Executive Ed Kolodzieski said on Tuesday Wal-Mart would stay in the world's second-biggest retail market.
"For Wal-Mart Stores, the Japanese market is clearly a very important market," he told a news conference. "I can tell you I have not had one single discussion with senior Wal-Mart executives ever about the topic of leaving Japan."
Seiyu accounts for some 10 percent of Wal-Mart's international sales. Revenues outside the United States accounted for roughly one-fifth of Wal-Mart's overall sales of $345 billion in the year ended January 31.
Kolodzieski stressed that there were signs of an uptick, but he fell short of promising a return to profit for 2008.
Seiyu, which is owned 53.6 percent by Wal-Mart, said it now expects to book a group net loss of 5.9 billion yen ($50 million) for calendar 2007, worse than the consensus forecast for a loss of 3.1 billion yen in a poll of four analysts by Reuters Estimates.
Previously it forecast a profit of 800 million yen. It cut its sales forecast by 3 percent to 963 billion yen.
Citing weak sales of clothing and appliances, Seiyu posted a net loss of 6.9 billion yen for the first half, in line with a downwardly revised estimate announced last month. First-half sales dropped 1.4 percent to 461.6 billion yen.
Seiyu has been trying to boost sales and cut costs using Wal-Mart's expertise, but it has not posted a profit and its share price has lost three-quarters of its value since the U.S. retailer first took a small stake in May 2002.
Seiyu said many of the stores it has remodeled have managed to post growth, but it has been hurt by weak demand for clothing and durable household goods such as gardening items and electrical appliances.
"We have also encountered some sales difficulties that we had not anticipated," Kolodzieski said.
Seiyu is aiming for a sales recovery from this autumn, predicting same-store sales will grow 1.4 percent in the second half, marking a recovery from a 1.1 percent fall in the half-year ended in June.
The company said it was encouraged by results from stores that were turned into 24-hour operation, adding the total number of 24-hour stores would be over 300 by the yearend from 262 a year earlier.
Prior to the earnings announcement, shares of Seiyu ended the day down 2.3 percent at 127 yen. Seiyu's shares have lost about 9 percent since the start of 2007, against a 12 percent fall in Japan's retail sector subindex (.IRETL.T) during the same period.