French supermarket group Casino has reported an 11% rise in 2003 net profit, driven by a strong performance by its discount and convenience stores.

The company posted net profit of €492m (US$600.5m) for the year to 31 December 2003, compared to €445m in the previous year. Analysts had forecast profit of €496m, reported Dow Jones News. Earning per share rose to €4.54 from €4.08 a year earlier.

The company said 2003 revenue rose to €22.98bn from €22.86bn in the previous year.

The company said that in France, its positioning in fast-growing formats means that it can accelerate its expansion programme, adding a planned 175,000 square metres of retail space in 2004 and 205,000 square metres in 2005. Nearly three-quarters of this expansion will be dedicated to its most profitable formats (Superettes and Franprix/Leader Price).

Casino said the expansion, together with continued strong same-store sales, is expected to generate robust earnings growth for the group in 2004.

International earnings are expected to rebound in 2004, led by continued strong operating performance from Vindémia and Big C, the turnaround of activities in Poland and a sharp improvement in earnings from the United States, with Smart & Final now refocused on its core business, Casino said.

In addition, contributions from Latin American subsidiaries should be boosted by the economic recovery seen since the second half of 2003.

Casino said it expects to achieve at least 10% growth in operating income and income from current operations in 2004.