UPDATE 2-Wholesaler Booker "comfortable" with analysts' forecast for 2015

Thu May 22, 2014 7:14am EDT

* Analysts' expect 16 pct rise in company's operating profit in 2015-CEO

* Operating profit rose 23 pct in 2014

* Growth in 2014 pretax profit and sales beats analysts' expectations

* Co says trading in first 7 weeks of 2015 ahead of last year

* Shares fall 3.4 pct; had risen 5 pct earlier (Adds comments from CEO, analyst; updates share price)

By Aastha Agnihotri

May 22 (Reuters) - Booker Group Plc, Britain's biggest cash-and-carry wholesaler, is comfortable with analysts' expectations of an about 16 percent rise in the company's operating profit in 2015, Chief Executive Charles Wilson said.

The growth estimate is however lower than the 23 percent rise in the company's operating profit in fiscal 2014, which was helped by higher sales of non-tobacco products to independent retailers and caterers.

Booker's shares fell as much as 3.4 percent in morning trading on Thursday, having reversed course after rising as much as 5 percent after the company reported a higher-than-expected 33 percent jump in pretax profit in the 52 weeks to March 28.

Booker said that while it expects the UK food market to stay competitive, the company's trading in the first seven weeks of fiscal 2015 was ahead of last year.

"Analysts are expecting about a 140 million pounds ($236.29 million) of operating profit for the year and we are comfortable with that," Chief Executive Charles Wilson told Reuters.

Booker - which runs 172 branches supplying grocery, spirits, tobacco and non-food items to caterers, convenience stores, restaurants and pubs in the UK - said total sales rose 17 percent to 4.68 billion pounds ($7.90 billion) in fiscal 2014.

That was slightly higher than analysts' average expectation of 4.67 billion pounds, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

"Despite the subdued food inflation levels and the increased competitive environment, we expect Booker sales to remain healthy," JP Morgan Cazenove analysts said in a note.

The rise in revenue was boosted by Makro, the UK business of German retailer Metro AG that Booker bought to reach customers such as small firms and hotels.

Booker's like-for-like sales, excluding Makro, rose 2.1 percent. Non-tobacco sales, which contributes over 60 percent to overall sales, rose 4.4 percent on a like-for-like basis.

Pretax profit rose by a third to 122.1 million pounds, beating analysts' average expectation of 118.3 million pounds. Operating prot rose to 120.4 million pounds from 97.9 million pounds.

Wilson said while Booker is looking to expand in countries such as India, where it has 6 stores, the company's main focus would remain the UK, from where it gets most of its revenue.

"We expect to grow from 4.7 billion pounds (in sales) group to being about 6 billion pounds group over the next few years and we think we can do that in UK by just doing a better job with capacity we have got," Wilson said.

Booker raised its final dividend to 2.75 pence per share from 2.25 pence and announced a special dividend of 3.50 pence.

Shares in the Wellingborough-based company were trading down 2.7 percent at 138.62 pence at 1046 GMT. They hit a high of 150 pence earlier on the London Stock Exchange. ($1 = 0.5925 British Pounds) (Editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Savio D'Souza)

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