LONDON Jan 8 (Reuters) - British grocer J Sainsbury posted a small rise in underlying sales in its Christmas quarter, though its rate of growth slowed.
The group, which trails market leader Tesco and is battling with Wal-Mart Stores' Asda to be the UK's No. 2 grocer, said on Wednesday sales at stores open over a year rose 0.2 percent, excluding fuel, in the 14 weeks to Jan. 4, its fiscal third quarter.
Though that was ahead of analysts' forecasts which ranged from flat to down 1 percent and represented a 36th consecutive quarter of underlying sales growth, it was a slowdown from second quarter growth of 2.0 percent.
Sainsbury's total third quarter sales rose 2.7 percent, excluding fuel.
The firm said the quarter was characterised by a "very tough sales environment" throughout October and November with a pick-up in the key Christmas period.
"As with last year, we expect customers to spend cautiously in the few months following Christmas, in an attempt to rebalance the household finances," it added.