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BENTONVILLE, AR-Wal-Mart has acquired a one-third stake in Central America’s largest retailer, Central American Retail Holding Co. Wal-Mart acquired the interest from Dutch retailer Royal Ahold NV. The purchase price was not disclosed. The Paiz family of Guatemala and Costa Rica’s Corporacion de Supermercados Unidos hold the rest of the company.

Carhco owns 363 supermarkets and other stores in Guatemala (120), El Salvador (57), Honduras (32), Nicaragua (30) and Costa Rica (124). The company has approximately 23,000 employees and in 2004 generated approximately $2 billion in sales. By comparison, Wal-Mart has several thousand stores, 1.7 million full-time employees and annual revenue of nearly $300 billion.

Royal Ahold formed Carhco in 2001 as an equal joint venture with the Paiz family and CSU. Wal-Mart’s agreement with the Paiz family and CSU states that Wal-Mart will acquire additional interests in the company over time with the goal of becoming majority owner.

Wal-Mart has a strong presence in Mexico but until now has had no storefronts in Central America, though it has had suppliers there for years. The company says it imports approximately $350 million worth of goods from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

UBS Investment Bank and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein acted as financial advisors to Wal-Mart in this transaction. Credit Suisse First Boston acted as financial advisors to the Central American partners of Carhco.

Shares of Wal-Mart were trading at $43.90 in noontime trading Tuesday, off $0.11 on the day. On Monday, the company hit a 52-week low of $43.82.

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