THE owners of Australia's dominant supermarket chains are fighting for supremacy among the world's largest retailers after Wesfarmers joined rival Woolworths in the world's top 20.
Coles owner Wesfarmers charged into 18th position from 21st and is growing faster than Woolworths, which is up one place to 17th, according to the 2013 Global Powers of Retailing report by accounting firm Deloitte.
The two companies achieved more than $A47 billion each in revenue at home and in New Zealand. Others in the top 20 derived income from stores in at least 10 countries.
Despite difficult global economic conditions, the world's largest retailers prospered, with more than 80 per cent of the top 250 posting an increase in retail revenue. Walmart topped the list with revenue of $US447 billion ($A424 billion), nearly four times second-placed French chain Carrefour's sales of $US113 billion.
But Deloitte said the bleak economic environment that Australian retailers had endured for years was likely to continue in 2013. Local sales growth in 2012 could be attributed to interest rate cuts, carbon tax compensation and other government handouts rather than an improved capacity to spend, it said.
Reasons for a lack of improvement in spending included anaemic jobs growth and a weak labour market, volatile consumer confidence and only moderate real wages growth.
The strongest retail conditions are in mining regions such as Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland, the weakest in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.
The arrival of global retailers Zara and Topshop and the expansion plans of Ikea and Costco were increasing competition, Deloitte Australia partner David White said. Australian retailers still held advantages over foreign companies, including a greater knowledge of the local market, but needed a strong strategy in response to increased competition, he said.