* Growth slows from 0.3 pct rise in Q3
* Parent Wal-Mart posts higher quarterly profit
LONDON Feb 21 Asda, the British arm of U.S.
retailer Wal-Mart, said underlying sales growth had
slowed in the fourth quarter of its financial year as consumers
Britain's second-biggest supermarket chain behind Tesco
said on Thursday that sales at stores open for more
than a year, excluding fuel and VAT sales tax, were up 0.1
percent in the 14 weeks to Jan. 5, its fiscal fourth quarter.
That followed a third-quarter rise of 0.3 percent.
Britain's grocers are finding growth hard to come by,
despite their focus on essential goods, as consumers fret over
job security and a squeeze on incomes.
Last month Tesco posted a 1.8 percent rise in like-for-like
sales for the six weeks to Jan. 5, against a weak figure in the
previous year. Sainsbury's, the No. 3 grocer, reported
a 0.9 percent rise in like-for-like sales for its third quarter
to Jan. 5, while No. 4 player Morrisons saw
like-for-like sales fall 2.5 percent in the six weeks to Dec.
The grocers have also been battling to restore consumers'
trust after becoming embroiled in a horsemeat scandal that is
still spreading across Europe.
Last week Asda found horse DNA in a beef Bolognese sauce. It
withdrew the product from sale, along with three other
beef-based products produced by supplier Greencore.
The performance of Asda, which trades from 555 UK stores
serving more than 18 million shoppers a week, reflects its focus
on low prices for key commodities such as bread, milk and eggs,
as well as revamped fresh-food lines and increased penetration
of own-brand ranges.
The company has also benefited from its price guarantee,
offering to refund customers the difference, via a voucher, if
an online price comparison website does not show their shopping
is at least 10 percent cheaper than at a rival.
Asda's sales update was released as parent Wal-Mart posted a
higher quarterly profit and raised its dividend payout on