A Wal-Mart in Panorama City, Calif.
A Wal-Mart in Panorama City, Calif. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: Wal-Mart may be the 800-pound retail gorilla, but like a lot of companies these days, it's having a hard time expanding in what's become a slow growth world. With American consumers pretty much tapped, the company's going overseas again.

Wal-Mart's going to spend $4 billion to get a toe-hold in what may well be one of the fastest growing markets left out there.

Janet Babin reports from North Carolina Public Radio.

Janet Babin: Wal-Mart's in talks to buy South Africa's third largest retailer, Massmart Holdings. The chain sounds like the Wal-Mart we know: It sells electronics, food and general merchandise. And its strategy -- keep prices as low as possible.

U.S. shoppers have been hit hard by the recession, so Wal-Mart's turned to emerging markets. And by some estimates, Africa is home to one billion potential customers. But analysts worry that the retail giant is spending too much to reach them -- some $4 billion.

Investment officer Walter Todd at Greenwood Capital says that's a high price to enter a market filled with economic and political risks of its own.

Walter Todd: Any of these countries that have different laws and so forth are gonna have their own set of risks, and certainly that's there with this acquisition as well, but that's the trade-off that you're making for trying to enter these fast-growing markets.

But, he says, Wal-Mart doesn't have much choice. The company has announced plans to open smaller-formatted stores in the U.S. But the only place left for supercenters may be a new continent.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.