Sainsbury's gains market share, earnings rise

Consumers yet to change shopping habits: Sainsbury's CFO

Supermarket Sainsbury's reported half-year underlying pre-tax profit of £400 million on Wednesday, versus £374 million a year ago.

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The 7 percent rise in first-half profit was at the top end of analysts' forecasts of £390-£400 million, with a consensus of £394 million.

The U.K.'s third biggest supermarket in terms of revenue after Tesco and Wal-Mart's Asda, has increased its market share to 16.8 percent, the highest for a decade, the group said in a statement.

Total sales including fuel were up 4.4 percent to £13.95 billion while same store sales, excluding fuel, were up 1.4 percent in the first half of the year.

Shares of Sainsbury's were up 1.3 percent after markets opened on Wednesday.

At the start of October, the group reported a pick-up in quarterly sales driven by growth at local convenience stores and online.

Sales at stores open over a year rose 2.0 percent, excluding fuel, in the 16 weeks to September 28, its fiscal second quarter.

The current figures amount to a 35th consecutive quarter of underlying like-for-like sales growth for the brand, the group said on Wednesday.

The retailer's performance means it could be closing the gap on Tesco, which had recorded flat second quarter U.K. like-for-like sales.

Chief financial officer, John Rogers, told CNBC that the group was "very pleased" with the results, coming as they do during a period of continued economic uncertainty and subdued consumer demand.

"It continues to be very tough, we've seen this over the last 12-24 months consumers tightening their belts and buying one less item each time they shop, the markets remains very difficult -- particularly up to Christmas with customers looking to save so they can afford to splash out during the Christmas period," he told CNBC Europe's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday.

He said he did not expect consumer habits to change "any time soon" but said that the group hoped it would continue to improve its operating margin in the latter half of the year.

He said the group would continue to focus on general merchandise and clothing, "we're very excited about the potential of this side of the business and we can see it growing over the years," he said.

Commenting on the results, Phil Dorrell, director of retail consultancy Retail Remedy, told CNBC that "the fairytale continues at Sainsbury's."

"In a still challenging retail environment, it can't seem to put a foot wrong. What's clear from this latest set of results is that market share is a massive focus for Sainsbury's, and specifically Justin King. Make no mistake about it: Justin King's raison d'être is to beat Asda, and Andy Clarke [chief executive of Asda], for market share. And I expect him to stay at the helm of Sainsbury's until he does."

"With Christmas coming, expect another strong period from Sainsbury's. It has a knack of getting things just right for the festive period. Sainsbury's rivals will be scratching their heads at its seemingly implacable momentum," Durrell added.