Adds supermarket comparable sales, background, CEO comment
Aug 27 (Reuters) - Australia's Woolworths Group Ltd WOW.AX reported a rise in annual supermarket sales on Thursday and said fiscal 2021 was off to a strong start for most of its divisions, as the coronavirus outbreak boosts in-home consumption.
Supermarkets across the world have seen a sharp rise in sales since March, as people stocked up for essentials and cooked more meals at home, as movement restrictions were imposed to tackle the virus from spreading.
On an adjusted basis, the company's supermarket comparable sales grew 8.9% in the fourth quarter, higher than a 7.1% rise posted by smaller rival Coles Group Ltd COL.AX during the same period.
For fiscal 2020, total supermarket sales rose 8.3% on an adjusted basis, while online sales jumped nearly 42%.
"While we have got off to a strong start to fiscal 2021, the outlook for the remainder of the year is very difficult to predict as evidenced by recent events in Victoria and New Zealand," Chief Executive Officer Brad Banducci said, referring to the second wave of outbreaks.
Woolworths said performance in the first eight weeks of fiscal 2021 was strong across all businesses, except hotels, with total sales in the supermarkets division rising by 11.9%.
On an adjusted basis, net profit after tax attributable to shareholders from continuing operations was A$1.60 billion ($1.16 billion), 1.2% lower than last year's A$1.75 billion.
Analysts on average had expected a profit of A$1.66 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Lower earnings from Woolworths' hotels and pubs hurt overall profit, as they remained shut from late March until the end of May due to social distancing restrictions.
($1 = 1.3820 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)
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