LONDON - British supermarket group Morrisons on Tuesday reported a sharp slowdown in quarterly sales growth as its trading overlapped the country's first COVID-19 lockdown when panicked shoppers sent sales soaring.
Morrisons, which trails market leader Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda in annual revenue, said like-for-like sales, excluding fuel, rose 2.7% in the 14 weeks to May 9, its fiscal first quarter - ahead of analysts' average forecast of up 1.6% but down from growth of 9.0% in the previous quarter.
Comparing the period with 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic started to disrupt trading last year, like-for-like sales rose 8.7%.
The group maintained its forecast for 2021/22 profit before tax and exceptionals including business rates paid to be higher than the 431 million pounds profit achieved in 2020/21, excluding the waived rates relief. It also said it would reduce debt.
It forecast another year of "meaningful profit growth" in 2022/23.
Morrisons said it plans to refresh its long-term capital allocation plans when it reports interim results in September.
"The pandemic is not yet over, but it is in retreat across Britain and there is much to be positive about as something approaching normal life begins to take shape," said CEO David Potts.
"Our forecourts are getting busier, we are seeing encouraging recent signs of a strong rebound of food-to-go, take-away counters and salad bars, and our popular cafés will soon fully reopen."
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Kate Holton) ((firstname.lastname@example.org))