Sainsbury has record Christmas though growth slows

J Sainsbury , Britain's No. 3 supermarket, met forecasts for underlying sales in the Christmas quarter, though growth did slow from its first half in a highly promotional festive market.

The group, which trails market leader Tesco and No. 2 player Wal-Mart's Asda by annual revenue, said on Wednesday sales at stores open over a year rose 0.9 percent, excluding fuel, in the 14 weeks to January 5, its fiscal third-quarter.

That was bang in line with analysts' average forecast, according to a company poll, included a record breaking Christmas and was a 32nd consecutive quarter of underlying sales growth. However, the outcome was down from growth of 1.9 percent in the previous quarter.

Total third quarter sales rose 3.3 percent, excluding fuel.

Many of Britain's grocers are finding the going tough, despite their focus on essential goods, as consumers fret over job security and a squeeze on real incomes.

Industry data on Tuesday showed Sainsbury's posted the highest sales growth of Britain's so called "big four" grocers in the run-up to Christmas and was the only one to eke out any market share growth.

Sainsbury's said it was positioned to perform well over the next quarter even though it expected the tough economic background to persist.

(Reporting by James Davey; editing by Kate Holton)