US grocery retailer Albertsons has reported lower-than-expected quarterly profit as the company was hit by fierce competition and the weak economy.

Albertsons said earnings for the first quarter to 1 May were US$172m, or 47 cents a share, compared to a net loss of $165m, or 40 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

Total sales were $8.94bn, little changed from $8.92bn a year earlier. Comparable-store sales slid 0.9%.

“Worsening economic conditions, a more cautious consumer and an intensifying competitive environment are making 2003 even more difficult than we had originally anticipated,” chairman and chief executive Larry Johnston was quoted by Reuters as saying.

In the year-ago period Albertsons reported a loss after discontinued operations and an accounting charge. Before those items, the company’s profit was 57 cents a share.