Despite clawing back some of its lost market share, UK supermarket operator Wm Morrison said today [Thursday] that it expected to post its first ever annual loss this year.

Over the 25 weeks to 24 July, the company recorded a bottom line pre-tax loss of £73.3m (US$129.4m), compared with a profit of £121.6m in the same period the year before. By comparison, Tesco, the sector leader, made £940m profit.

The cost of absorbing the Safeway chain, which Morrison bought last year for £3.3bn, has hit the company's bottom line harder than anticipated. Like-for-like sales at the core Morrison's stores - those that were part of its estate pre-Safeway - fell by 5.2% in the third quarter, compared with the 2.7% fall in the first half. The company has issued five profit warnings since it acquired Safeway.

Meanwhile the search for a new chief executive to replace Bob Stott is underway. Other vacancies at the company include group chief accountant, head of risk and internal audit and finance directors for manufacturing and distribution and for trading.