* Eyes French 2014 sales up of 3.5-4 pct vs 4.9 pct in 2013
* Eyes 2014 mkt share gain of 0.5 points vs 0.8 points in 2013
* French rival Systeme U already warned of slower 2014 growth
By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, Feb 10 (Reuters) - E. Leclerc, France’s second-largest retailer by market share, warned on Monday that a difficult economic climate would slow its sales growth and domestic market share gains this year.
The unlisted Leclerc is predicting sales growth of 3.5-4 percent this year, excluding fuel, That would be a slowdown from 4.9 percent growth to 33.9 billion euros achieved in 2013.
Leclerc, a cooperative association of retailers which operates 642 stores in France, mostly hypermarkets, also said it aimed to lift its market share by 0.5 percentage-points this year after a 0.8 percentage points gain to 19.5 percent in 2013.
“E. Leclerc expects a difficult year for consumption which will suffer from a quasi-stagnation of purchasing power following a year of decline,” the company said in a statement.
The cautious forecast echoed comments made by unlisted French rival Systeme U last week.
Retailers across Europe have been struggling as shoppers’ disposable income is squeezed by subdued wages growth and austerity measures and many have responded with price cuts.
In recent years, Leclerc’s market share has been increasing at the expense of rivals, and notably Carrefour, Europe’s largest retailer, which has been striving to improve its price image among shoppers.
Carrefour, which has been cutting costs, revamping stores, and improving price competitiveness in France, where it makes 46 percent of group sales, however retained its market share lead in 2013 at 20.3 percent, Kantar Research data have showed. (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)