Wal-Mart has unveiled the most aggressive growth strategy in its history. Announcing plans to increase its retail space by 8% next year, president Lee Scott said Wal-Mart would open, relocate or expand up to 180 supercentres, 40 discount stores, up to 20 Neighbourhood Markets and as many as 50 Sam's Club outlets in the US. The company also plans to open between 100 and 110 units overseas. A further 12 new stores or rebuilds are planned in the UK for 2001, plus four to five extensions, "two or three of which may become supercentres," the company said. To service the 40 million sq ft of new retail space, the world's largest retailer also plans to build seven new distribution centres in the US. But Scott warned high interest rates and oil prices at home had cut into the disposable incomes of US consumers, and predicted slow sales over the festive season. The Wal-Mart boss predicts like for likes for the rest of the year will grow by between 4% to 6%. Last December, the company scored same store sales gains of 9.1%. Scott's conservative forecasts worries some analysts who fear the retailer's rapid expansion is cannibalising sales growth at existing stores. One said: "Wal-Mart is growing on a scale unimaginable by European standards. But its like for likes are beginning to suffer. If it continues to grow at this staggering pace, the competition authorities in the US are going to have to take a look at it." Others feel any slowdown in the US economy would favour hard discounters like Wal-Mart as shoppers tightened their purse strings. Scott admitted it hadn't been plain sailing at Wal-Mart's loss making German operation, but added: "We knew it wasn't going to be a picnic." The decision to temporarily suspend operations at Wal-Mart.com "for a remodelling" took analysts by surprise. Some speculated that Wal-Mart might be experiencing logistical problems in fulfilling online orders. {{NEWS }}