UK supermarket chain Wm Morrison, which has its AGM today (Thursday)  has issued figures showing like for like sales up 5.4% or 2.3% excluding fuel for the first 15 weeks of the current financial year, the period to 15 May.

"This performance is in line with the Board's expectations and shows improvement over the sales performance for the first six weeks of the current financial year (which was up 4.1% or 1.2% excluding fuel)," the company said. 

 Sales in the 108 converted Safeway stores open for at least 1 full week's trading continue to be very encouraging and excluding fuel are 12.5% above last year with a 21.3% increase in customer numbers, it said.  "Average sales per square foot has now increased to £18 (US$32.81) per square foot from £14.77 and is well on target to meeting our three year target sales density for Safeway converted stores of £19.72.  We are also encouraged by the relative consistency of these uplifts between Northern and Southern stores."

Like for like sales increased in the core Morrisons estate by 1.9% in total but were down 2.3% excluding fuel.  "As previously reported, this figure has been impacted by competition from divested stores and cannibalisation from Safeway conversions and compares with a very strong trading period last year," it said.  The 53 Morrisons stores that were unaffected by adjacent conversion or divestment achieved a total like for like sales growth of 5.7% and 1.5% excluding fuel.

"During the same period it is pleasing to report that the trend in like for like sales of Safeway stores awaiting conversion to the Morrisons fascia has continued to improve," it said. Having declined almost 7% during the last financial year, the first six weeks showed an overall gain of 1.3% (down 0.5% excluding fuel).  After 15 weeks the sales trends have moved further forwards with overall growth of 4.4% (3% excluding fuel).  Underlying this improvement has been an encouraging increase in customer numbers which are up 8.2% over the comparable period last year.

Morrisons also announced that Richard Pennycook has accepted the company's offer to become group finance director. Pennycook is currently group finance director of RAC Plc, the quoted specialist motoring and vehicle management company which was recently acquired by Aviva. He will join Morrisons on 1st October 2005.

"We are delighted to appoint Richard. He has very wide experience of managing complex financial issues together with handling investor relations," said chief executive Bob Stott.

"Morrisons is a great company with a great brand and I look forward to working with the Morrisons team," said Richard Pennycook.