While most stateside Wal-Mart
Littlewoods is a privately owned business of roughly 180 stores that sells clothing and household goods through two store chains: Littlewoods and Index. The average store, according to a story by James Hall on the Telegraph website, averages 20,000 square feet, and the company's annual sales are estimated at about $1.89 billion.
Asda, which makes up most of Wal-Mart's business in the U.K., has about 250 outlets. (It also owns a few George apparel stores.) So much of Wal-Mart's revenue comes from the United States that it doesn't even bother breaking out specific foreign country results in its annual report, and no single country made up even 1% of its total sales during its latest fiscal year. But the company needs to grow overseas markets as well as domestic ones to build scale and increase profits wherever it operates.
That hasn't always been easy. Last year, for example, the company failed in a bid to buy U.K. grocer Safeway -- no relation to the American company -- which eventually went to William Morrison Supermarkets. And this one may prove similarly difficult, as it's not clear that Littlewoods' management is in a hurry to sell. (Wal-Mart's supposed £500 million offer is well below the £750 million that Littlewoods' owners paid for it a few years ago.)
And there will almost certainly be other interested parties. U.K. regulators, meanwhile, watch over deals on their home turf very closely; they essentially made the Safeway bidding noncompetitive by ruling that Wal-Mart and other suitors weren't allowed to proceed with their offers and demanding significant concessions from William Morrison.
This must be frustrating to the folks in Bentonville, Arkansas, who, while they sometimes contend with reluctant communities in the U.S., at least have plenty of green space on which to build. In the crowded U.K., buying up competitors makes more sense -- even if it fails as often as it succeeds.
Fool contributor Dave Marino-Nachison doesn't own shares of Wal-Mart.