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Tesco Posts Best Christmas Sales in Three Years, Names New UK Boss

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By Martin Baccardax | January 10, 2013 6:19 PM EST

Tesco plc shares rose in early London trading after it posted its best domestic holiday sales figures in three years as its £1bn UK restructuring beings to bear fruit.

UK like-for-like sales in the 6 weeks ending on 5 January - not including petrol - grew by 1.8 percent, Britain's biggest retailer said in a statement published Thursday on its website, a figure the company said was largely in line with its expectations.  Overall group sales for the period rose by 3.9 percent, excluding petrol, the company reported. Collectively, the sales figures were well ahead of analysts' estimates and better than its rival J Sainsbury plc over the key Christmas period.

"The Group performed broadly in line with our expectations through the Christmas period, with an improved performance in the UK, and maintained trends elsewhere as we continue to experience tough trading conditions - particularly in Central Europe," said CEO Philip Clarke. "I am pleased with our performance over the important Christmas and New Year period in the UK, which reflects the progress we are making in improving our offer for customers."

Tesco shares rose 2.4 precent to 357.65 pence each Wednesday. The stock has risen around 14.6 percent over the past year. 

The group also named Chris Bush - a 30-year veteran of the group who was recently called back from Tesco's Asia operations - as the new managing director of its UK operations but made no changes to its forecast for domestic performance and expects the broader trends it has seen so far this year continue into 2013.

The Cheshunt, England-based group suffered its first trading profit loss in nearly 20 years in October, despite better-than-expected sales growth in its key UK market amid one of the deepest recessions in a generation.

The group earmarked a £1bn revamp of its UK business earlier this year, including a direct £400m in capital investment. The plans include adding 8,000 new staff in existing stores and creating a net 20,000 new jobs over the next two years, the company said. 

About 430 UK supermarkets, nearly a quarter of its entire floor space in Britain, will be addressed in the overhaul and its online offering of non-food items was doubled to 80,000 for the Christmas trading season.

Sainsbury said Wednesday it had record sales over the key Christmas period but warned of a challenging market for British retailers in the months to come.

The UK's second-largest grocery store chain said like-for-like sales grew by 1.5 percent in the 14 weeks ending on 5 January, in a trading update published on its website.

Excluding fuel, the sales advanced 0.9 percent. Total sales for its fiscal third quarter rose 3.9 percent, maintaining a pace of 32 consecutive quarters in which the company has grown its top line.

The group's online sales advanced more than 15 percent, while its Convenience division saw an expansion of 15 percent. The group said it was "well positioned" heading into its fiscal fourth quarter and would update the market on trading for that three-month period on 19 March.

Overall grocery store sales grew 3.2 percent in the 12 weeks ending 23 December, Kantar said in a report published on its website Tuesday, with the strongest growth coming from the discount and premium ends of companies' product ranges. J Sainsbury was the only member of the Big Four to increase its market share, the researcher said.

Tesco saw its market share dip to 30.5 percent from 30.6 percent during the period, arresting the average 0.4 percent decline the group had been experiencing for most of the year. Discount retailer Aldi, on the other hand, recorded an all-time high 3.2 percent market share gain following sales growth of 30.1 percent for the period. Rival discounters Lidl (10.8 percent) and Iceland (2.2 percent) also showed improvements.

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