* 2012 operating profit 2.0 bln, tops guidance for 1.94 bln
* Says confident will grow sales, earnings in 2013
* No plans to enter new emerging markets in 2013 - CEO
* Sees conflict of interest if Diniz chairs Brasil Foods
* Shares up 1.1 percent, hit highest since June 2007
By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, Feb 21 French retailer Casino
predicted further sales and profit growth this year after
expansion in Latin America and Asia lifted 2012 operating profit
by 30 percent.
The company - which controls Brazil's top retailer Grupo Pao
de Acucar (GPA) - said Brazil, Vietnam, Thailand and
Colombia would drive growth, while it would aim to stabilise
falling sales at French hypermarkets with price cuts.
"Casino will pursue its strategy of back-to-basics in France
and organic growth internationally, while working to maintain
its financial structure," Chairman and Chief Executive
Jean-Charles Naouri said in a statement.
Casino has been expanding in fast-growing emerging markets
Thailand, Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia, which now make up 56
percent of sales and 66 percent of profit, while European
consumer spending has hit by the euro zone debt crisis.
Casino, which competes with Carrefour and unlisted
Leclerc, Intermarche and Auchan, said it is targeting strong
sales growth and higher profit in 2013, aiming for a net debt to
core profit (EBITDA) ratio below 2 against 1.91 in 2012.
Naouri told a news conference that while Casino did not plan
to enter new emerging markets this year, it was not ruling out
making "tactical moves" from Colombia, which he again described
as Casino's expansion platform in Latin America.
In Brazil, Casino's second-largest market after France,
growth prospects are strong, as Grupo Pao de Acucar (GPA) speeds
up expansion in food retail, notably in the cash and carry and
convenience formats, while aiming for top spot in e-commerce.
Commenting on Brazilian press speculation that Abilio Diniz,
chairman of GPA, might seek to also chair Brazil's BRF-Brasil
Foods SA, Naouri said such a move would "obviously be a clear
conflict of interest", as Brasil Foods was a major GPA supplier.
While there was nothing in Diniz's shareholder pact with
Casino preventing him from making such a move, Naouri said he
hoped "ethical and governance principles would prevail".
A spokesman for Diniz in Paris declined comment.
Diniz and Naouri have been at odds in recent years after the
Brazilian tycoon, whose family founded GPA, tried to orchestrate
a merger between GPA and Casino's arch-rival Carrefour
Last June, Casino took control of GPA but Diniz stayed on as
chairman. There has been speculation that Casino might try to
use this new potential conflict to push Diniz out for good.
Casino posted full-year operating income of 2 billion euros
($2.7 billion), beating the firm's guidance for 1.94 billion.
Casino shares were up 1.1 percent in early afternoon trade,
outperforming the European retail sector. The stock rose
as high as 77.98 euros, its highest since June 2007.
"Valuation remains attractive to us," Credit Suisse analysts
said in a note, adding that Casino trades at 13.9 times their
estimate for 2013 earnings, compared with a 12.7 sector average.
"We think a premium is deserved given the changing profile
of the company towards emerging countries and Casino's potential
to unlock sum-of-the-parts value," they said.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's largest retailer
and a key rival of Casino in Brazil, trades at multipe of 12.9
times forecast earnings for 2014 against 12.2 for Casino,
according to Reuters data .
Casino's profits from international operations rose 64.9
percent, while the contribution from France fell 8.6 percent.
Casino, whose brands include Geant hypermarkets, Franprix
and Monoprix supermarkets, Petit Casino convenience stores and
Cdiscount Internet shopping, warned last month that the
operating margin of its French business would decline amid a
worsening business climate.
Fourth-quarter hypermarket sales fell nearly 10 percent
after Casino funded permanent price cuts on basic products by
reducing promotions, a move that cost it some customers.
Casino also said it would extend price cuts to national
brands at its Geant hypermarkets this year.
Naouri ruled out reducing Casino's stake in French real
estate unit Mercialys below its current 40 percent.