UPDATE 2-Brazil lifts Casino Q3 sales, French hypermarkets improve
* Casino Q3 sales 11.78 bln eur vs Rtrs poll avg 11.7 bln
* French hypermarket sales fall 4.7 pct vs 7.9 pct drop in Q2
* French hypermarket traffic and volumes positive
* CFO "very comfortable" with market consensus for 2013 EBIT
By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Casino said sales growth accelerated in the third quarter thanks to robust demand in Brazil and an improvement at its Geant hypermarkets in France, where the retailer started to benefit from price cuts introduced at the end of last year.
Finance director Antoine Giscard d'Estaing told journalists on Monday that Casino now hoped to return to positive growth in all its French businesses between the end of 2013 and early 2014.
He also said he was "very comfortable" with market expectations for 2013 earnings before interest and taxes of 2.35 billion euros as Casino banks on strong profitable growth in international markets, which make up 57 percent of sales.
Group sales for Casino, which controls top Brazilian retailer Grupo Pao de Acucar, reached 11.78 billion euros ($16 billion) in the quarter. Analysts had on average expected sales of 11.7 billion, according to a Reuters poll.
Stripping out acquisitions, currency and calendar effects, and petrol, this was a like-for-like rise of 6.5 percent and an acceleration from 3 percent growth in the second quarter, Casino said in a statement on Monday.
"There are encouraging signs in France despite an economic climate that is not getting easier," he said.
Consumer confidence started improving from the second quarter but remains "low" while consumers keep a tight rein on spending despite low inflation, he added.
Retailers across Europe have been struggling as shoppers' disposable income is squeezed by subdued wage growth and austerity measures.
Casino has been expanding in the fast-growing emerging markets of Thailand, Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia, away from weaker growth in Europe.
POSITIVE HYPERMARKET TREND
In France, closely watched like-for-like hypermarket sales fell 4.7 percent in the quarter, compared with a 7.9 percent drop in the second quarter and an 11.5 percent fall in the first. Analysts had expected a sales decline of 5.5-6 percent.
In the last quarter of 2012, Casino funded permanent price cuts on basic products by reducing promotions, a move that initially cost it some customers. It typically takes several months before price cuts lead to stronger sales volumes.
"Geant's traffic and food volumes have turned positive again," Giscard d'Estaing said, citing rises of 1.3 percent for traffic and 1.5 percent for food in the quarter.
This improvement came earlier than Casino had expected as the retailer was initially targeting the end of 2013 for a return to positive hypermarket traffic and food volumes.
French hypermarket traffic rose 2.4 percent and food volumes gained 7.7 percent in the four weeks to Oct. 14, he added.
"This paves the way for positive sales numbers probably in the second quarter next year," he said.
In emerging markets, Latin America posted like-for-like sales growth of 13.5 percent, while Asia grew 8.5 percent in the quarter.
Casino shares have gained 9.5 percent this year, underperforming a 37 percent rise in Carrefour and a 16.7 percent gain in the European retail sector.
Casino trades at 14.56 times 12-month forward earnings against 17.33 times for Carrefour and 11.04 times for Britain's Tesco.
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