Sainsbury's 9-year run of sales growth ends

LONDON, March 18 Tue Mar 18, 2014 3:08am EDT

LONDON, March 18 (Reuters) - Britain's J Sainsbury ended a nine-year run of quarterly sales growth on Tuesday, underlining sluggish trading momentum for the country's major grocers in the early months of 2014 and reflecting a tough comparative figure last year.

The group, which trails market leader Tesco and is battling with Wal-Mart Stores' Asda to be the UK's No. 2 grocer, said sales at stores open over a year fell 3.1 percent, excluding fuel, in the 10 weeks to March 15, its fiscal fourth quarter.

That compared to a rise of 3.6 percent in the same period last year, analysts' forecasts in a range of down 2-3 percent and growth in the third quarter of 0.2 percent.

Prior to the fourth quarter Sainsbury's had reported like-for-like sales growth for 36 straight quarters.

The firm's total fourth quarter sales fell 1.0 percent, excluding fuel.

Sainsbury's said it was confident it would outperform peers in the year ahead.