Wal-Mart can afford to take time to sort out its troubled European operation, claims a top US analyst. Mark Husson, of Merrill Lynch, said: "Wal-Mart can see a time when it will have saturated the US market with supercenters. But it will be seven or eight years before we get to that point." And he told a CIES conference: "That means Wal-Mart can afford to make mistakes in Europe for a long time before it needs its international operations to become the engine to drive growth." Husson also told the conference that the dramatic spate of consolidation in the US supermarkets sector would continue for the next 12 to 18 months. But he also said that, with fewer prospective buyers, the price of deals would become more realistic. Once that consolidation is over, Husson said he would not be surprised to see US supermarket operators "stick their toes in the water overseas, particularly in Europe". And he predicted Safeway would be the one to watch: "They have not used their passports yet ­ but they will do." {{NEWS }}