* Decline in Brazilian consumer electronics sales slowing
* Market consensus for 2015 EBIT of 1.5 bln euros “realistic”
* Shares fall 6 pct, reversing opening gains (Adds CFO comments from analysts call, analysts, shares)
By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, Jan 14 (Reuters) - French retailer Casino’s shares fell 6 percent on Thursday on concerns about demand in Brazil, despite fourth-quarter sales that beat expectations as a recovery in its home market gained momentum.
Consumer electronics demand in Brazil, Casino’s second-biggest market by revenue, remained weak in the fourth quarter but the sales decline had slowed, the company said.
Chief Financial Officer Antoine Giscard d‘Estaing said Brazil sales were nearing a bottom, and that he was “very confident” about a recovery in Casino’s French operations, rebutting a report by research and investment firm Muddy Waters.
But shares fell nearly 6 percent, reversing opening gains, and were down 5.6 percent at 38.44 euros at 1434 GMT. The shares, which lost 45 percent last year, have been hit by concerns about challenging French and Brazilian markets, and the company’s balance sheet.
“We remain concerned by the risk of additional earnings pressure in emerging markets (Brazil),” Societe Generale analysts said in a note to clients.
“We need to be confident that consensus has bottomed before considering taking a more optimistic stance. This is probably not yet the case,” said the bank, which has a “hold” recommendation on the shares.
Last month San Francisco-based Muddy Waters said the retailer was “dangerously leveraged” and put a value of 6.91 euros on its shares, prompting the worst slide in Casino’s stock in seven years. The stock started December at over 50 euros.
The short-seller also questioned the recovery at Casino’s French operations.
Casino said it was on track with its 2 billion euros ($2.18 billion) deleveraging plan and that the disposal of its Vietnam business could take place in the first half of 2016.
It confirmed its forecast for earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) at its French operations of at least 500 million euros in 2016, which would be driven by sales growth, margin improvement and cost cuts.
Giscard d‘Estaing also told analysts market consensus for 2015 group EBIT of 1.5 billion euros was “realistic”. He gave guidance of 1.680-1.780 billion euros in October.
Casino, which controls Brazil’s Grupo Pao de Acucar , reported fourth-quarter sales of 11.793 billion euros ($12.8 billion), above the average of analyst estimates of 11.6 billion.
Stripping out acquisitions, disposals, currency effects and fuel, sales declined 0.3 percent year-on-year, less than the 0.5 percent decline recorded in the third quarter.
In Brazil, consumer electronics sales, which are sensitive to economic conditions, fell 15.2 percent in the fourth quarter on a same-store basis compared with a 24.7 percent fall in the third quarter.
$1 = 0.9163 euros Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by James Regan and Susan Thomas