Tesco sales outperform rival chains' for first time since Clarke took the helm, as firm considers axing US stores

 

The chief executive of Tesco has been boosted by industry data showing the supermarket giant has delivered sales growth ahead of Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons for the first time since he took the helm nearly two years ago.

Alongside its third-quarter results today, Philip Clarke is also expected to unveil a strategic review of Tesco's US operation Fresh & Easy as he comes under renewed pressure to take decisive action on the troubled chain. Fresh & Easy is expected to post slower sales growth in the quarter and has not made a profit since launching in California in 2007.

In the UK, Mr Clarke is likely to blame a sluggish performance in non-food, which is being hit by a squeeze on household budgets, for a fall of up to 1 per cent in its like-for-like sales over the 13 weeks to 24 November.

While this will mark a deterioration on the 0.1 per cent rise in its second quarter, Mr Clarke is expected to point to Tesco outperforming its rivals over recent weeks. According to Kantar Worldpanel data seen by The Independent, the UK's biggest retailer grew food and drink sales by 5.6 per cent over the four weeks to 25 November, compared with 3.6 per cent at Sainsbury's and 2.5 per cent at Asda.

Sales actually fell by 2.1 per cent at Morrisons but rocketed by 32.1 per cent at discounter Aldi.

The figures are a fillip for Mr Clarke, who unveiled a profit warning in January. Even including non-food, Tesco is understood to have posted total till roll sales up by 2.7 per cent over the four weeks, which is ahead of its rivals for the first time since Mr Clarke took the helm in March 2011.

This compares with 2.5 per cent growth for the market, 1.4 per cent at Sainsbury's and 1.7 per cent at Asda. The trading woes of Morrisons are laid bare by a 1.7 per cent fall over the period.

Tesco is struggling to make it big in America at its 199-store Fresh & Easy chain in California, Nevada and Arizona. Fresh & Easy is expected to post sales growth of 4 per cent in its third quarter, a decline on the rise of 6.9 per cent in its second quarter.

Tesco, which has stores in 13 countries, saw its profits fall by 11.6 per cent to £1.7bn over the six months to 25 August, the first drop for 18 years.

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