French retail giant Carrefour has reported almost flat first-quarter sales as currency effects offset its internal growth.

The supermarket giant said turnover in the first three months of the year dropped 0.4% to €18.28bn (US$19.66bn). At constant exchange rates, however, sales rose 6.0%, reported Reuters. Carrefour said currency effects knocked 6.4% off its sales growth.

Analysts had forecast sales growth of between 3.8% and 5.8% on an internal basis and a drop of between 1% and 2.4% on a reported basis.

Carrefour, which is the world’s second-largest retailer after US-based Wal-Mart, reaffirmed its growth and earnings targets for 2003. The retailer’s full-year target for sales growth is at least 5% at constant currency rates. The company has forecast double-digit growth in 2003 earnings per share.

Sales growth in the first quarter was strongest in Latin America and Asia, 14.1% and 11.4% respectively at constant exchange rates, although both areas also suffered the worst impact from the strong value of the euro.

In Carrefour’s domestic market of France, sales rose 2.6% to €9.40bn.

The retailer said it opened three hypermarkets and 25 supermarkets in the first quarter, as well as 83 discount stores, 47 convenience stores and one cash and carry store.