Carrefour posts solid 2013 growth; Spain, France gain along with Latin America

PARIS – Big box retailer Carrefour posted solid gains in 2013, as sales grew in Latin America and Asia, rebounded in Spain and France — two of its biggest markets — and a turnaround plan took firm hold in the fourth quarter of the year.

Europe’s largest retailer said Thursday its full-year sales were 84.3 billion euros ($114.8 billion), an increase of 2.5 per cent, according to adjusted figures accounting for asset sales and cuts to debt. In a by-the-numbers comparison with 2012, growth fell 1.2 per cent.

During 2013 the company closed stores or transferred operations in faltering markets, with CEO Georges Plassat promising to refocus in areas where it could be a leader. Spain’s fourth-quarter sales were up 1.7 per cent, returning to positive territory for the first time since 2008 in large part because of a Christmas bonus for government workers that sent more people to the stores at the end of the year, said Pierre-Jean Sivignon, the company’s chief financial officer.

“This added extra purchasing power to the economy,” he told analysts.

But Spain’s rise may not be sustainable after a two-year recession. The 26-per cent unemployment rate is the second highest in the European Union after Greece, and the government has pushed through waves of unpopular tax increases since taking office in 2011.

Fourth-quarter sales also rebounded in France, Carrefour’s largest single market, rising 1.7 per cent as the company appeared to recover market share after years of losses to its closest competitors.

And Carrefour continued to grow in Latin America, with fourth-quarter sales rising 12.6 per cent in the region. Sales worldwide rose 3.2 per cent, the company said.

Since Plassat took over in 2012, the company has cut staff, sold off underperforming areas and concentrated on its basic model: one-stop shopping in big box stores. Late last year, Carrefour announced plans to buy dozens of shopping malls next to its stores.