Grocer Morrisons Cheered by Christmas Sales Boost

Britain's fourth largest grocer William Morrison Supermarkets on Tuesday attributed strong festive sales to increased advertising, price cuts and a wider offering of fresh foods.

Morrison said it welcomed four million more customers through its doors than a year earlier and said annual profits are likely to be at the "top end" of its own forecasts.

In a strong trading statement the grocer said so-called like for like sales, without counting fuel revenue, rose 9.5 percent in the six weeks ended Jan. 6 -- comparing favorably with analyst predictions of a 7 percent rise.

"I am delighted with our Christmas performance," Morrison CEO Marc Bolland said in a statement. "We welcomed significantly more customers to our stores, and they were well served with attractive offers and great fresh food. These strong results are further evidence that our rigorous focus on freshness, service and value is striking a chord with shoppers."

Morrison's sales boost comes a week after the country's market leader Tesco issued a disappointing set of sales figures.

Bradford-England-based Morrison's revival comes after a wholesale reorganization process was put in place after the company announced its first ever annual loss 18 months ago.

And the company predicted a positive outlook with full year profits expected "to be at the top end of its expectations."

Finance Director Richard Pennycook said full-year profit is likely to be between 520 million pounds ($1 billion; 702 million euros) and 570 million pounds ($1.1 billion; 770 million euros). Last year Morrisons reported full-year of profit 331 million pounds.

Analysts praised Morrison's recovery. Andrew Wade of stockbroker Seymour Pierce said the grocer looks to have taken market share from most of its rivals and described the trading update as "fantastic".

Morrison "has proved to be this year's Christmas retail grocery champion and has once again outperformed our expectations," said Numis analyst Jose Marco-Tobares.

Despite its strong holiday performance, Morrison shares were caught up in the financial turmoil engulfing global stock markets. Morrison shares fell 2.8 percent to 295 pence ($5.75, 3.98 euros).