Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, moved a step closer to entering Africa as a 51 percent shareholder of a large South African chain.
Shareholders of South Africa's Massmart voted overwhelmingly to approve the acquisition, valued at more than $2 billion. The deal is subject to approval by South Africa's anti-monopoly regulators.
South African labor unions opposed the deal, citing Wal-Mart's anti-union reputation, and have threatened a boycott. Wal-Mart has said it would respect contracts and is committed to working with South African unions.
Wal-Mart is the largest U.S. container shipper. The company's 684,000 TEUs in 2009 ranked it first on the JOC Top 100 Importers list.
In recent years much of the company's growth has been outside the U.S. The company has 8,692 stores in 15 countries, including China, Brazil and India, but Massmart would be its first venture into Africa. Wal-Mart's sales last year topped $400 billion.
Massmart runs about 290 big-box, pharmacy, electronics and other stores in 14 African countries. The company is Africa's third largest distributor of consumer goods, the continent's largest retailer of general merchandise, liquor and home improvement equipment and supplies, and the largest wholesaler of basic foods.
Massmart CEO Grant Pattison said once the deal goes through, Massmart will continue to operate the stores and continue to be listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, while Wal-Mart will be majority owner.
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