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    Metro Posts Flat Q1 Sales

    But ‘strong financial position’ enables dividend increase

    Canadian grocer Metro Inc.’s first-quarter sales of fiscal 2014, ended Dec. 21, 2013, were $2.7 billion, flat versus last year, while adjusted net earnings from continuing operations of $103.9 million, or $1.11 per share, were down 0.9 percent and same-store sales dipped 0.5 percent.

    However, the Montreal-based company’s board of directors declared a dividend of 30 cents per share payable March 14, an increase of 20 percent over the year-ago period, and revealed that the board had approved a new dividend policy with a payout ratio target increased from 20 percent of the previous year’s net earnings to a level between 20 percent and 30 percent, with a target of 25 percent.

    ‘Improved Sales Performance’

    “Competition remains intense, and our merchandising strategies, as well as our investments, drove improved sales performance in the first quarter, compared to the last two quarters of 2013,” said Metro President and CEO Eric R. La Flèche. “Our strong financial position allows us to increase our dividend by 20 percent to enhance shareholder return. We are committed to delivering great value to our customers in each of our banners in order to sustain our long-term growth.”

    Metro’s share of earnings in convenience store chain Alimentation Couche-Tard was $13.1 million for the first quarter of 2014, versus $19 million for the corresponding period of 2013. The company attributed the decline to its reduced holding compared with last year, following the sale of almost half of its investment in the second quarter of 2013.

    Net earnings for Metro’s first quarter of 2014 were $99.2 million, down 15.4 percent from net earnings of $117.3 million for the year-ago period. Fully diluted net earnings per share were down 10.9 percent to $1.06 from $1.19 last year. Metro said the decrease was mainly the result of non-recurring expenses in 2014 and a gain related to a discontinued operation in 2013.

    Excluding non-recurring closure expenses and net earnings of $6.4 million on a discontinued operation in the first quarter of 2013, following the sale of Metro’s Distagro foodservice division, adjusted net earnings from continuing operations for the first quarter of 2014 were $103.9 million, compared with $110.9 million for the same period last year, and adjusted fully diluted net earnings per share from continuing operations for the first quarter of 2014 were $1.11, versus $1.12 in the first quarter last year, a 0.9 percent decrease.

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