The supermarket said its turnaround strategy is 'firmly' on track
Sales and profits improved at Tesco last year, leading the supermarket to announce its first dividend in three years.
Operating profit increased by 80.6 per cent to £1.84bn from £1.02bn, while profit before tax was up 795 per cent at £1.3bn from £145m.
Group sales rose 2.3 per cent to £51bn from £49.9bn, as the supermarket added 260,000 more customers.
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The company said it would pay a dividend of 3p per share, the first divi it has announced since embarking on a strict cost-cutting strategy in the wake of an accounting scandal almost four years ago.
Shares in the group rose as much as 3.9 per cent in early trading after the results were published on Wednesday.
In September 2014, Tesco admitted to a £250m overstatement of profits for the first half of that year, and UK supermarket watchdog later found that the group had been deliberately and repeatedly withholding money owed to suppliers to boost its sales performance artificially.
On Wednesday, Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis, who was parachuted into the top spot after the scandal in a bid to turn things around, said the business was making good progress.
“We are generating significant levels of cash and net debt is down by almost £6bn over the last three years,” he said.
“All of this puts us firmly on track to deliver our medium-term ambitions and create long-term value for every stakeholder in Tesco.”
The company said it is set to meet its target, set out in October 2016, of reducing costs by £1.5bn and improving operating margins to between 3.5 per cent and 4 per cent by the 2019/20 financial year.
Tesco also said the integration of wholesaler Booker, which it bought last year, is “well underway” and is expected to generate a “synergy benefit” of £60m within the first year of merging with its new owner.
Naeem Aslam, chief markets analyst at Think Markets, said investors were pleased with the supermarket’s expectation-beating performance, and added: “The competition is still fierce as discounter outlets such as Aldi and Lidl are holding the strong position in the market and this remains the nightmare for Tesco. However, the new CEO who took the helm back in 2014, has simplified the product line and he is determined to cut the cost.”
Meanwhile, Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said Tesco was enjoying a “renaissance”. “Its turnaround plan is literally paying dividends to shareholders,” he said.
“The outlook is now looking more positive for the grocery sector after a pretty challenging year in 2017. The inflationary squeeze looks to be easing on consumer purses, as is the exchange rate pressure on the cost of stocking shelves.”
Mr Khalaf added: “Competition in the grocery market is still fierce, with the discounters Aldi and Lidl piling on the pressure, alongside the likes of Morrison and Sainsbury.
“Tesco has responded strategically to the tough trading environment by purchasing the wholesaler Booker, overcoming competition concerns and some shareholder grumbling to do so.
“Overall Dave Lewis will be pleased his strategy is starting to gain traction, with sales and margins heading in the right direction, and the Booker acquisition in the bag.”