By Sudip Kar-Gupta
PARIS (Reuters) - Carrefour's (CARR.PA) shares rose on Wednesday, after the French supermarket retailer expressed confidence in its strategy plan even though sales growth slowed slightly in the fourth quarter due to anti-government protests in France.
Carrefour shares were up 4.7 percent in early trading, at their highest level since late November. The rally in Carrefour also lifted the shares of its domestic rival Casino (CASP.PA) which rose around 1 percent.
Beyond France, shares in Dutch-Belgian peer Ahold Delhaize (AD.AS) also gained on Wednesday, after it reported fourth-quarter sales in line with expectations, driven by strong online business in the Netherlands.
Late on Tuesday, Carrefour published fourth-quarter sales of 22.6 billion euros ($25.7 billion), in line with forecasts. The company added it was on track regarding a broader strategy plan to boost its results by 2022.
"Carrefour's Q4 sales confirmed ongoing European challenges, but less dilution than feared from French protests," wrote brokerage Jefferies, which kept its "hold" rating on the stock.
The relative resilience in Carrefour's sales figures, in the light of the French protests, echoed a similar performance last week from Casino.
Carrefour, which is Europe's largest retailer, is in the midst of a five-year plan it launched exactly one year ago.
The plan entails cutting costs and jobs, boosting its E-commerce investment and aiming for a partnership in China with Tencent <0700.HK> in a bid to boost profits and revenues and help it tackle competition from Amazon (AMZN.O).
The plan entails expansion into convenience stores and a greater focus on organic products and private-labels, having recently sealed a purchasing alliance with British rival Tesco (TSCO.L), which will bring its first benefits in 2019.
Chief Executive Alexandre Bompard told analysts late on Tuesday that "everything we have achieved in 2018 shows we are on the right track." Carrefour also said it expected 2018 recurring operating income of about 1.93 billion euros.
Analysts at brokerage Bryan Garnier kept a "buy" rating on Carrefour shares.
"Buy confirmed as the sales performance in France and the new 2018 EBIT target should reassure the market over the execution of the strategic plan, especially on the cost-side!" wrote Bryan Garnier in a note.
($1 = 0.8803 euros)
(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; editing by Jason Neely and Alexandra Hudson)