BUSINESS
10/05/2011 04:55 EDT | Updated 12/04/2011 05:12 EST

Retailer Tesco reports 16 pct gain in H1 profit, US losses reduced

LONDON - Tesco PLC, the world's third-largest retailer, reported a 16 per cent increase in net profit for the half year ending Aug. 27 despite a drop in sales in its main British market.

Tesco on Wednesday reported a net profit of 1.38 billion pounds ($2.13 billion) for the period, up from 1.18 billion pounds a year earlier. Revenue rose 7.8 per cent to 31.8 billion pounds.

Sales excluding petrol and sales tax fell half a per cent in Britain, reflecting a broader retrenchment in consumer spending. Tesco recently launched a "Price Drop" campaign to shore up its dominant market share in Britain of around 30 per cent.

Tesco shares were down 0.6 per cent at 377.9 pence in early trading on the London Stock Exchange.

"Improving the U.K. performance will take time, although we already knew that," said Philip Dorgan, analyst at Panmure Gordon. Nonetheless, he reaffirmed a "buy" rating on shares.

The board proposed to raise the interim dividend by 6 per cent to 4.63 pence per share.

Tesco said trading profit — which excludes property-related items — in its main U.K. market was up 4.5 per cent, while trading profit in Europe was up 12 per cent and in Asia 19 per cent.

The company's Fresh & Easy venture in the United States trimmed its losses by 23 per cent to 73 million pounds, and Tesco said the U.S. stores were on track to break even by 2013.

Tesco also announced that it was slowing the development of Tesco Bank into a full-service offering, and confirmed that it has not completed the move of all systems to new platforms. The company said it will put off a more aggressive marketing campaign for new products including mortgages until next year.

"It has been increasingly suspected that the migration away from the (Royal Bank of Scotland) network has been late for some time now," said Clive Black, analyst at Shore Capital.

Provisions for settling claims for mis-selling payment protection insurance were raised by 57 million pounds to 92 million pounds, though Tesco said claims to date have been 16 million pounds. Overall, Tesco said full-year trading profit at the bank would fall 40 million pounds below target.