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TOKYO, April 3 (Reuters) - Seven & I Holdings Co, the world's biggest convenience store operator, forecast a slowdown in profit growth for the year from March 1 as a sales tax increase erodes earnings at its supermarkets and department stores even as sales remain strong at its 7-Eleven shops.
The company, which operates Ito Yokado supermarkets and Sogo department stores, forecast a 4.8 percent rise in operating profit to 356 billion yen ($3.43 billion), a record for a fourth year in a row but slowing from 14.9 percent growth in the year just ended.
In the year to Feb. 28, the company's operating profit rose to a record 339.66 billion yen, although that was below the consensus forecast of 366.5 billion yen from 18 analysts surveyed by ThomsonReuters I/B/E/S. Sales rose 12.8 percent to 5.63 trillion yen.
The 7-Eleven chain in Japan is aggressively opening new stores and has been bolstered by brisk sales of fresh coffee and private branded goods.
The company's shares ended 1.2 percent higher at 3,978, compared with a 0.8 percent rise in Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei average. The announcement came after the end of share trade. The shares are down nearly 5 percent since the start of the year, holding up better than the Nikkei which is down 7.5 percent. ($1 = 103.7200 Japanese Yen) (Reporting by Ritsuko Shimizu; Writing by Edmund Klamann)