German retail giant Metro Group has reported a first quarter profit, helped by strong growth in Eastern Europe.

The company reported group net earnings of €11.9m (US$14.2m) for the three months of the year, compared to a net loss of €2.7m a year earlier. First-quarter sales rose 6.1% to €12.87bn, a rise of 7.3% net of currency effects.

CEO Hans-Joachim Körber said the company had succeeded in accelerating sales revenue growth despite the difficult industry environment.

In Germany, Metro’s sales were up 2.3% to €6.84bn. International sales rose 10.7% to €6.03bn. Net of currency effects, sales abroad climbed 13.7%. International sales accounted for 46.9% of total sales in the first quarter, compared to 44.9% during the same period last year.

“Our strongest growth region is Eastern Europe… In the first quarter we could increase sales in this region by 21.3% net of currency effects,” said Körber, adding that Metro is currently the biggest retailing company in Eastern Europe.

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As of 31 March 2004, Metro operated a total of 2,370 outlets worldwide. Twelve new stores were opened in the first quarter.

The group said it expects to continue on its profitable growth path during the ongoing fiscal year. The company confirmed its forecast to raise group sales before currency effects by at least 6%.