* Q3 sales 8.922 bln euros, up 5.4 pct like-for-like
* Casino keeps all its financial goals
* Casino could exceed 1.5 billion euros assets disposal goal
* CFO says Q4 trends in line with those of Q3 (Recasts with CFO call to analysts)
By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, Oct 18 (Reuters) - French retailer Casino, which is battling investor concern over its high debt, said sales growth accelerated in the third quarter, reflecting an improving performance in France and Brazil and it predicted a similar trend for the fourth quarter.
Casino - which had its credit rating cut to junk by Standard & Poor’s in March 2016, and is shedding assets such as properties to help whittle down its debts - said it was maintaining all its annual financial objectives.
Chief Financial Officer Antoine Giscard d’Estaing said asset sales currently amounted to 1.1 billion euros ($1.26 billion), and that Casino could exceed its 1.5 billion euros goal, which it had earmarked for early 2019.
“Our disposal plan is ahead of our initial schedule and we could go beyond. The plan is to reduce debt by 1 billion euros this year. We are quite comfortable with that goal,” he told analysts.
The stock is down by nearly 20 percent so far in 2018, partly on concerns over Casino’s balance sheet and parent group Rallye’s ability to refinance its debt.
The company is also under pressure to show it can revive profits in France while conditions in Brazil stay tough.
Casino, which controls Brazil’s top retailer Grupo Pao de Acucar, said third-quarter group sales reached 8.922 billion euros, in line with the 8.9 billion euros average in a consensus of analysts’ forecasts compiled by the company.
Stripping out acquisitions, currency effects and revenue on fuel, sales rose 5.4 percent, against 5.2 percent growth in the second quarter.
Casino, along with domestic peers such as Carrefour and Auchan, faces intense price competition in its home market as well as challenges from online players such as Amazon which has made in-roads in the sector.
Third quarter figures however reflected a better performance in France, helped like that of rival Carrefour , by warm weather and a busy tourist season.
Casino was also reaping the fruits of price cuts, store renovations and its greater focus on convenience stores.
Same-store sales at the Geant Casino hypermarkets in France rose 2.8 percent in the quarter led by food retail, organic products and home equipment, with the roll-out of Cdiscount corners generating additional traffic in stores.
Its Monoprix, Franprix and Casino-branded stores also posted robust performances, notably in the lucrative Paris market.
Sales also improved in Brazil, helped by its Assai cash-and-carry outlets, and a return of food inflation. For 2018, Casino has forecast organic growth above 10 percent in consolidated profit, excluding tax credits, and organic growth in French operating profit, excluding real estate activities, also above 10 percent.
To achieve that guidance, Casino banks on its operating performance but also on savings from a joint purchasing alliance with Auchan, German retailer Metro and France’s Schiever, the ramp-up of its data monetisation business and of its energy subsidiary GreenYellow.
It is also expanding its online offering through a deal to use UK online retailer Ocado’s platform. Monoprix has also become the first French retailer to agree to sell groceries via Amazon.
$1 = 0.8712 euros Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Editing by Sarah White and Alexandra Hudson