WAL-MART: NOT SCALING BACK IN GERMAN MARKET

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart has refuted an Associated Press report that said the retailer is abandoning growth in the German market.Maria Rodriguez, Wal-Mart International spokeswoman, said, "We are continuing expansion in the German market. That [report] is inaccurate. We're committed to that market."She said Wal-Mart Germany has focused on remodeling stores, noting that the retailer renovated

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart has refuted an Associated Press report that said the retailer is abandoning growth in the German market.

Maria Rodriguez, Wal-Mart International spokeswoman, said, "We are continuing expansion in the German market. That [report] is inaccurate. We're committed to that market."

She said Wal-Mart Germany has focused on remodeling stores, noting that the retailer renovated 24 of its 94 stores last year.

The AP report said Wal-Mart nixed plans to open 50 additional stores in Germany by 2003.

However, Rodriguez said, those plans were set last year by Allen Leighton, then president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Europe. In September, Dave Ferguson succeeded Leighton in those posts, and initiatives outlined by Leighton no longer apply, she added.

Two store openings are planned in Germany this year, said Rodriguez, but when asked about future plans, she replied, "We have no comment."

She added, "We're very excited about what Ferguson is doing." Before taking on his current job, Ferguson headed up Wal-Mart Canada, considered to be the retailer's strongest international business.

He is taking the best practices of the Canadian business and applying them to the German operations when it makes sense, said Rodriguez.

Although Wal-Mart is widely seen to be struggling in Germany, analysts have noted that the chain has made strides in that market by remodeling stores, trimming inventory and upgrading distribution systems.

"Led by new CEO Dave Ferguson, operations continue to improve," said Jeff Feiner, an analyst with Prudential Securities, New York.

"Our comp store sales for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2001 [which ended in February] outperformed the German retail market," said Rodriguez, although she declined to disclose sales figures for Wal-Mart's business there.