MEXICO CITY — Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Mexican subsidiary Walmex has said it will pour $1.3 billion to expand logistics and infrastructure by 2020, creating 10,000 jobs.
But analysts said the announcement, made from Los Pinos’ presidential palace, was a government tactic to soothe rising nerves here that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s policies will sap economic growth next year and hurt Mexico’s long-term investment attractiveness.
“This was really just show off,” said Carlos Hermosillo, an analyst at Actinver broker in Mexico City. “Walmex has said it plans to double its Mexican business in 10 years and these are some of the investments needed for the logistics and back-office needed to support more stores. They are not additional.”
Hermosillo said Walmex is already investing 14 billion pesos, or $689 million at current exchange, a year in Mexico, its largest market after the U.S., and that the $1.3 billion will come out of that sum and likely take longer than three years to be committed.
Alfonso Ramirez Cuellar, who leads the El Barzón consumers’ advocacy group, agreed the Walmex announcement was more marketing than substance.
“The government is trying to put the focus on future investments to make things look good and assuage fears about Trump,” he said.
But Walmex’s communications director Antonio Ocaranza rejected those views, insisting that the logistics investment is additional to the 10-year plan to double its size in Latin America’s largest economy.
“This was exclusively new. We have never announced we would invest $1.3 billion in logistics and this is additional to our annual investments,” Ocaranza said.
Those investments will likely total 12 billion pesos a year by 2019, adding to 53 billion pesos spent since 2013.
“No analyst could have known about this,” Ocaranza said, adding that Walmex’s management recently began planning the additional expenditures, realizing that future store openings in northern Mexico and other diverse regions would require additional supporting infrastructure.
“We can’t double our size without doing an effort on logistics. We have the money to do it and we have to do it now,” Ocaranza added.
He said Walmex will likely build 10 to 12 new warehouses to take its count to 26, adding that the logistics blitz is only for Mexico and not its Central American operations.
The discounter will continue pursuing its plan to grow sales 7 percent annually in Mexico to double its size by revenues in 2024, adding that turnover is up 8 percent and 9 percent on a like-to-like and consolidated basis, respectively, in 2016.
Walmex is unshaken by Trump, whose threats have spooked Mexico’s businesses and society.
“We are not modifying our plans because of Trump. We don’t have debt and have a healthy cash flow so we have a big opportunity to invest and open new stores,” Ocaranza said, though he noted Walmex will become stricter to ensure stores meet their return targets.
If the economy worsens in 2017 — something ratings agencies predict (they recently downgraded gross domestic product growth to 1.9 percent from 2.5 percent), Walmex will discount more aggressively.
“If family incomes fall and consumers become nervous about savings, we will only get more consumer share because we are associated with low prices. And we will be very aggressive with discounts so that people know we are the cheapest supermarket,” he said.
During the investment announcement with embattled Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Walmex’s new chief executive officer Guilherme Loureiro said the funds will go to build new distribution centers and enlarge existing ones to support its 1,300 stores. The initiatives will create 10,000 jobs to boost the headcount to 210,000.
Other clothing discounters are taking a similarly positive attitude, notably Old Navy, which just opened a four-story flagship in Mexico City’s Madero promenade, a growing shopping strip in the capital’s historic center, marking its 14th shop in the country.
“This is our most emblematic store in Mexico,” said Old Navy’s global president Sonia Syngal.
Despite the buzz, clothing retailers are facing a difficult 2017.
Hermosillo said retail sales could grow 4 to 5 percent next year in the best-case scenario and depending on the severity of the Trump effect, even less. In 2017, they increased 6 to 7 percent.
Ramirez added Walmex and other retailers will likely suffer from falling consumer confidence as Trump’s threats to slap tariffs on Mexican goods and expel immigrants, wiping out crucial remittances’ income, dent economic growth.
Consumer credit — the lifeblood of retail sales in Mexico — will also likely decline as banks’ exposure to consumer loans is looking increasingly “alarming,” Ramirez concluded.