Morrisons announces 66 per cent profits increase

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The Independent Online

Sir Ken Morrison rounded off 55 years at the supermarket chain Morrisons today by announcing a 66 per cent hike in annual profits to £612m.

The chairman, who retires today from the family firm that he joined in 1952, said it gave him "particular pleasure" to report the record profits haul.

It comes after the group saw like-for-like sales grow by 4.6 per cent, excluding fuel, last year.

Sir Ken's successor, Sir Ian Gibson, promoted today from deputy chairman to non-executive chairman, paid tribute to an "inspirational and dedicated" leader.

He said: "Sir Ken is a consummate retailer and his achievements are remarkable.

"His wholehearted devotion and strength of purpose over five decades have taken Morrisons from modest beginnings to national household name.

"A creator and builder with great passion and flair, his contribution to retailing has been invaluable and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for his life's work."

Sir Ken has accepted the role of honorary president at Morrisons.

He stepped down from the day-to-day running of Morrisons in 2005, but has since remained chairman.

Sir Ken - who with his family remains the biggest shareholder in the business with a 15 per cent stake - has helped transform Morrisons from a small market trader into the UK's fourth biggest supermarket.

Under his leadership, the company opened its first supermarket in Bradford in 1958 and led the company on to the stock market in 1967, with Morrisons joining the blue-chip ranks of the FTSE 100 Index in 2001.

Sir Ken said in his last statement as chairman: "I have been with the business now for some 55 years and must say that the experience has been both demanding and fulfilling, but nonetheless it has always been enjoyable."

He added that he intended to "develop new interests in a number of fields" following his retirement.

The Bradford-based supermarket said Sir Ken would present the results today but remained tight-lipped on his plans to mark his final day at the firm, saying only that he was "quite a private person".

The veteran retailer offered a farewell gift to shareholders with plans to return a total of £1bn to investors this year and next after the bumper annual results. Analysts have long argued that the company could take more debt on to its balance sheet.

Morrisons reported adjusted turnover up 6 per cent at £13bn in the year ended 3 February.

The sales increase follows just a week after data from industry watcher TNS Worldpanel showed that the chain achieved its highest ever share of the grocery sector last month, at the expense of rivals Tesco and Sainsbury's.

Morrisons said that consumer spending was set to slow this year as households tightened belts amid rising inflation.

Food prices were likely to grow by around 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent this year, with staples such as milk and bread set to be hit the hardest, according to the group.

But Morrisons added that the trading environment "presents an opportunity" for the group.

"We have made a promising start to our new financial year in a market that we know will be particularly challenging," said the supermarket.