UPDATE 1-Casino sales slow on Brazil, French hypermarkets improve

Mon Apr 14, 2014 2:49pm EDT

* Q1 sales 11.295 bln euros, up 6.6 pct like-for-like

* French hypermarket sales up 0.1 pct in Q1 vs 2 pct decline in Q4

* CFO sees no urgency for CDiscount IPO (Adds CFO comments, details, background)

By Dominique Vidalon

PARIS, April 14 (Reuters) - Retailer Casino said sales growth slowed in the first quarter, held back by top market Brazil, where it is seeking to lure shoppers from rivals Carrefour and Wal-Mart with lower prices.

Casino said on Monday that it saw a further improvement at its French hypermarkets, with sales returning to growth at its Geant stores as it continued to benefit from previous price cuts.

But sales at its LeaderPrice discount stores fell 9 percent. These are still in the early stages of resetting prices, which Casino expects to bear fruit in the second half of the year.

"The bulk of the price repositioning at Geant has now happened...we are confident that in the second quarter the improvement in Geant sales will be more evident," Finance Director Antoine Giscard d'Estaing told analysts.

He also said that Casino's online discounter, CDiscount, had the capacity to grow by itself and that there was "no urgency" for an initial public offering of the unit.

Casino, which makes 60 percent of its sales in emerging markets and controls Brazil's top retailer, Grupo Pao de Acucar , said first-quarter group sales reached 11.295 billion euros ($15.6 billion), slightly above the 11.26 billion euro forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts.

Stripping out acquisitions, currency effects and excluding petrol prices, this was a like-for-like rise of 6.6 percent and a slowdown from 8.5 percent growth in the fourth quarter of 2013, Casino said on Monday.

Casino has been expanding for some years in the fast-growing emerging markets of Thailand, Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia, away from weaker growth in Europe, although Asia has slowed recently.

In Brazil, like-for-like sales growth excluding petrol and calendar effects, was 8.7 percent, down from 14.2 percent in the fourth quarter.

Giscard d'Estaing said that in a context of high inflation in Brazil, Casino wanted to be perceived as "the most attractive banner" and that all its store formats - hypermarkets, supermarkets, and cash and carry - aimed to be "very aggressive against direct competitors".

PRICE WAR

Retailers across Europe have been struggling as shoppers' disposable income is squeezed by subdued wage growth and austerity measures. Most have responded with price cuts.

Last week larger rival Carrefour posted slower growth at its French hypermarkets, citing a price war among retailers and food deflation on certain products such as dry groceries.

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 at its Geant hypermarkets.

But there have been signs in recent months that these price cuts are finally helping Casino's French hypermarket sales.

Same-store sales excluding petrol and calendar effects at the Geant hypermarkets rose 0.1 percent, against a 2 percent decline in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Casino shares closed 0.15 percent higher on Monday at 86.78 euros. The stock has gained 3.44 percent so far this year, outperforming Carrefour's 1.48 percent decline. ($1 = 0.7238 Euros) (Editing by James Regan)

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