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Kroger profit beats estimates on lower costs, raises forecast

Breakfast cereal is shown for sale at a Ralphs grocery store in Del Mar, California, March 6, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) - Kroger Co (KR.N), the biggest U.S. supermarket operator, reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit, helped by lower operating expenses and higher fuel margins.

The company's shares were up 4.8 percent at $37.10 in early trading, after Kroger also raised its forecast for earnings and identical supermarket sales growth for the fiscal year ending January 2016.

Total operating expenses fell 35 basis points as a percentage of sales compared to last year, the owner of Ralphs, Smith's and Food 4 Less grocery chains said.

"Because retail fuel prices are typically slower to react than their wholesale counterparts, Kroger's fuel margins tend to expand during periods of falling prices," JP Morgan analyst Ken Goldman wrote in a pre-earnings note.

Net income attributable to the company rose to $433 million, or 44 cents per share, in the second quarter ended Aug. 15, from $347 million, or 35 cents per share, a year earlier. [ID:nPn6glDql]

Identical supermarket sales, excluding fuel, rose 5.3 percent, beating the 4.7 percent growth expected by analysts polled by research firm Consensus Metrix. Sales rose 0.9 percent to $25.54 billion.

Analysts on an average had expected earnings of 39 cents per share on revenue of $25.5 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Kroger raised its full-year earnings forecast to $1.92-$1.98 per share from $1.90-$1.95 per share it had estimated previously.

The company said it now expects identical supermarket sales growth, excluding fuel, of 4-5 percent, compared with its previous forecast of 3.5-4.5 percent.

Up to Thursday's close, Kroger's shares had gained 10.3 percent this year.

(Reporting by Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru and Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Anil D'Silva)