Shares in Metro Group fell today (24 March) after the company said sales growth in 2008 missed its medium-term targets and it declined to give a detailed forecast for the year ahead.

Metro, the world’s fourth-largest retailer, posted a rise in annual sales of 5.8% to EUR68bn (US$91.97bn). EBIT excluding one-off items was up 7.1% at EUR2.1bn.

The Germany-based retail giant has set a medium-term target of 6% sales growth per year and EBIT growth of over 8%.

Looking ahead to 2009, Metro said it expects its first-quarter sales – when measured in euros – to come in around last year’s level.

However, the company said the uncertain economic environment meant it was “not feasible” to give a more in-depth forecast for the full year.

Nevertheless, Metro CEO Dr. Eckhard Cordes praised the performance of the business in 2008.

“In a distinctly more difficult economic environment we fully met our guidance for the financial year 2008,” Dr. Cordes said. This is something that only very few companies have been able to achieve.”

Metro’s international business continued to account for a greater share of group turnover, reaching 60.8% in 2008. Turnover from the company’s Eastern European operations climbed 15.8% to EUR18.1bn; in Asia and Africa, revenues rose 18.6% to EUR2.2bn.

Sales growth was slower in Western Europe, rising 2.2% to EUR21bn.

Dr. Cordes said Metro, which has operations in 32 markets, would continue to look for opportunities overseas.

“Particularly in economically challenging times there are also opportunities for healthy companies. We are determined to leverage them,” he said.

Metro’s cash-and-carry business has already earmarked its first stores in Kazakhstan and Egypt this year.

Shares in Metro in Frankfurt stood at EUR24.22 at 13:12 CET this afternoon – down 4.19%.