* Carrefour sees first sales rise in Spain since 2008
* Dixons reports recovery at Greek business
* Consumer sentiment improving in southern Europe
* French hypermarkets seen growing again
* Ahold hit by tough Dutch, U.S. markets
By James Davey and Dominique Vidalon
LONDON/PARIS, Jan 16 Sales at European retailers
Carrefour, Metro and Dixons Retail
have returned to growth in southern Europe as consumers start
spending again after years of economic turmoil, austerity and
Europe's biggest retailer Carrefour said its sales in Spain
grew in the fourth quarter for the first time since 2008, while
French hypermarkets improved further, though at a slower pace
than in the previous quarter.
Dixons, the continent's No. 2 electricals retailer, saw
sales at its Greek business, Kotsovolos, rise 3 percent in the
Nov. 1-Jan. 4 period, driven by its wholesale business. However,
sales at retail stores that have been open for more than a year
fell 8 percent.
"It's still quite tough in Greece and the market is still
under pressure. We are beginning to see some evidence that it is
flattening out," Chief Executive Sebastian James told reporters.
"That business is going to come right."
The euro zone debt crisis began in Greece in 2010, forcing
Athens to take a bailout under which the European Union and IMF
demanded deep budget cuts, sending unemployment soaring and
provoking violent protests. As speculation swirled in 2012 that
Greece could abandon the euro, Dixons stockpiled security
shutters to protect its nearly 100 stores in the country.
However, recent data suggests the economy is on the brink of
a tentative recovery after a six-year recession, boosted by a
rebound in tourism and rising investment and exports.
Dixons, which has been benefiting from strong demand for
tablet computers, has sold off units in Turkey and Italy, but
plans to stick with Greece as it is the market leader there,
although the country accounts for a small part of group sales.
Shares in the British-based group were down about 4 percent
by 1118 GMT after it gave a cautious outlook for the rest of the
year, while Carrefour dipped 3 percent after the French retailer
reported slowing growth in Brazil, its second-biggest market.
Euro zone economic sentiment rose more than expected in
December, as the mood improved in Spain and Italy more than in
Germany and France, while industrial production rose in November
at its fastest pace in nearly four years.
The southern periphery, where the crisis erased tens of
thousands of jobs, saw some improvement as Spain's output
returned to growth and Portugal's production rose 1.5 percent.
Metro AG, Europe's fourth-biggest retailer, said
on Monday sales had grown slightly at its cash and carry
businesses in Spain and Italy although like-for-like sales fell
in its home market Germany.
Carrefour said quarterly sales rose 0.2 percent
like-for-like in its third-largest market Spain, but the
economic climate was still tough in Italy where they were down
Retailers across Europe have been struggling as shoppers'
disposable income has been squeezed by subdued wage growth and
the government austerity measures.
Carrefour has also been hurt by reliance on the hypermarket
format it pioneered, as time-pressed customers shop more locally
and online, and buy non-food goods from specialists.
On Tuesday, Carrefour's smaller French rival Casino
said it expected sales at its domestic hypermarkets to
return to growth in the next six months as it would reap the
full benefits of earlier price cuts.
However, grocer Ahold reported a
steeper-than-expected decline in fourth-quarter sales as the
U.S. food market contracted and customers spent less in its
Dutch home market, dragging its shares down 3.5 percent.