UPDATE 2-Loblaw cautions on competition after profit trumps estimates

Thu Feb 20, 2014 1:43pm EST
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* Fourth-quarter adjusted profit C$0.73 vs est C$0.55

* Revenue rises 2.3 percent to C$7.64 billion

* Gross margin in retail business rises 50 basis points to 22.1 pct

* Shares rise almost 6 percent

By Ashutosh Pandey

Feb 20 (Reuters) - Loblaw Cos Ltd's profit blew past market forecasts as gross margins improved more than expected, sending shares of Canada's largest grocer up almost 6 percent even as it warned of an "extremely competitive" first half of 2014.

U.S. retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Target Corp have expanded in Canada over the past year, posing a threat to local retailers such as Loblaw, Canadian Tire Corp Ltd and Metro Inc.

"The competitive landscape has fundamentally changed with new competitors growing strongly and incumbents competing to maintain share," Loblaw President Vicente Trius said on a conference call on Thursday.

"But we will continue to execute against our investment program while balancing those investments with targeted efficiencies," he said.   Continued...