Dec 5 (Reuters) - Kroger Co, the biggest U.S.supermarket operator, on Thursday posted a lower third-quarterprofit that matched Wall Street's view, as it continued toappeal to loyal shoppers with competitive prices.
The Cincinnati-based company that owns the Ralphs, Smith'sand Food 4 Less chains said net income was $299 million, or 57cents per share, down from $317 million, or 60 cents, a yearearlier.
Excluding adjustments ranging from taxes to settlementpayments and merger-related costs, earnings per share in thelatest quarter were 53 cents per share, versus 46 cents a yearearlier, Kroger said.
Analysts, on average, were looking for a third-quarterprofit of 53 cents per share, according to Thomson ReutersI/B/E/S.
Third-quarter identical-store sales - which include resultsfrom stores open without expansion or relocation for five fullquarters and are used to gauge a grocer's performance - were up3.5 percent for the latest quarter, excluding the sale ofgasoline.
The company maintained its forecast for full-year identicalsupermarket sales growth, excluding fuel, in the range of 3percent to 3.5 percent and annual profit of $2.73 per share to$2.80 per share.
Kroger executives earlier this year vowed to deliver higherprofits amid raging competition from retailers ranging fromsupermarket operator Safeway Inc and giant retailerWal-Mart Stores Inc to dollar stores and conveniencemarts.
Shares in Kroger were down 0.2 percent to $41.44 inpremarket trading.
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