Morrisons to create 4,500 jobs as part of expansion plan

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The Independent Online

William Morrison Supermarkets, the Bradford-based food retailer, is to create 4,500 jobs over the next two years as it continues its expansion programme.

The company will open 15 new stores during the period including a branch in Grays, Essex as it seeks to expand further outside its northern heartland. Morrisons will have 120 stores by the end of this year.

The plans were announced as Morrisons reported another set of impressive results with pre-tax profits for the year to 3 February up 11 per cent to £243m. Like-for-like sales were up by 7.2 per cent and are up by 7.4 per cent in current trading.

Sir Kenneth Morrison, the chairman, said the group's combination of low prices and multisave promotions was continuing to prove popular with "today's canny shoppers".

He said the market was tough but that the group was doing its best to maintain momentum.

Commenting on the outlook, he said. "It looks pretty good for us. We're the last to feel the benefits [of an upswing in the economy] and the last to feel it in a downturn."

However, analysts said sales may slow as consumers react to the prospects of higher unemployment and interest rates. "Morrison's stunning performance should not be seen as a guide to the sector," said Andrew Fowler, an analyst at Merrill Lynch.

Sir Kenneth, who is 70, said he had no plans to retire, adding that he still worked five days a week and visited stores on Saturdays.

The succession question was raised again last week when John Dowd, Morrisons' managing director, was forced to retire through ill-health. This week the group named Marie Melnyk and Bob Stott as joint managing directors.

The company, which has been criticised by some analysts for the lack of non-executive directors on its board, said it was reviewing its policy but had no plans to make appointments in the immediate future.

A well-known follower of the "keep it simple" approach to business, Sir Kenneth joined the debate on company audits in the wake of the Andersen-Enron affair. "Accountancy services are getting more and more complex and a little more clarity wouldn't go amiss," he said. Asked about his view on Morrisons' auditors, KPMG. Sir Kenneth said: "They're alright. They can add up."

Morrisons proposed a final dividend of 1.84p, taking the payout for the year to 2.2p, up 22 per cent on 2000. The shares rose 6.75p to 212.75p. ABN Amro raised its price target on the shares to 225p.