January 17, 2019 / 5:09 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Retailer Casino keeps goals although French protests impacted sales

* 50 mln euros impact from French “yellow vest” protests

* But Casino keeps overall financial targets (Adds detail and background)

By Dominique Vidalon

PARIS, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Supermarket retailer Casino , which is battling investor concerns over its high debt, said revenue growth slowed down slightly in the fourth quarter as anti-government protests in France impacted sales at its Geant hypermarkets.

Casino, which is shedding assets to help cut its debts and which recorded a robust sales performance in its second-largest market of Brazil, nevertheless expected to meet its 2018 profit goals for France, and overall group and debt reduction goals.

The French “yellow vest” anti-government protests cost Casino about 50 million euros ($57 million) in lost revenue, Finance Chief David Lubek told reporters.

Casino, which controls Brazil’s Grupo Pao de Acucar , said fourth-quarter sales reached 9.928 billion euros, above the 9.8 billion euros average in a consensus of 10 analysts’ forecasts compiled by the company.

Stripping out acquisitions, disposals, currency effects and fuel, group sales rose 5.1 percent year-on-year, a slight deceleration from 5.3 percent growth in the third quarter.

Fourth quarter figures reflected a weaker performance in France where the “yellow vest” protests resulted in blocked access to some stores, notably hypermarkets which make some 20 percent of Casino French sales.

Same-store sales at the Geant Casino hypermarkets arm in France were flat after rising 2.8 percent in the third quarter.

The “yellow vests” (‘gilets jaunes’) movement - named after the fluorescent jackets all French motorists carry in their vehicles - started in mid-November as a protest against a fuel tax but has since grown into a broader backlash against the government.

Casino reports full-year earnings on March 14.

For 2018, Casino has forecast organic growth above 10 percent in consolidated profit, excluding tax credits, and organic growth also above 10 percent in French operating profits, excluding real estate activities.

Casino, which had its credit rating cut to junk by Standard & Poor’s in March 2016, said asset sales currently amounted to 1.1 billion euros, and that it could exceed its 1.5 billion euros goal for this, which it had earmarked for early 2019.

Casino shares fell 28 percent last year, partly on concerns over its balance sheet and parent group Rallye’s ability to refinance its debt.

The stock rose 2 percent on Jan 17, and is broadly flat since the start of 2019.

$1 = 0.8782 euros Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta

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