PARIS — Hitting its target despite the challenging economic environment and shaky consumer confidence in the French market, Carrefour on Thursday reported a 7 percent increase in third-quarter sales to 24.72 billion euros, or $37.25 billion at average exchange rates.

On a like-for-like basis, the hypermarket operator’s sales rose 2.9 percent.

“We’re on course to meet our objectives for 2008,” said chief executive officer José Luis Duran, noting the firm is nonetheless bracing itself for 2009. “It is obviously going to be a tough environment.”

Sales in France rose 3.5 percent to 10.77 billion euros, or $16.22 billion. Non-food sales fell by 3.3 percent, an improvement over the 8.6 percent drop in the first quarter, with good end-of-season discount sales in clothing, Carrefour stated.

“What we can see is that French supermarkets are performing much better and the most touchy part was the non-food element. It’s very important as it’s one of the real weaknesses of the group, so it’s a very, very good signal,” commented Alexandre Iatrides, a Paris-based analyst for KBL Richlieu. “The sales are much better than expected. We were even expecting a profit warning and have exactly the opposite.”

Excluding France, sales in the rest of Western Europe were up 3.5 percent to 6.71 billion euros, or $10.11 billion, led by a 6.6 percent gain in Spain. In Belgium, however, results dipped 1.4 percent, with a 4.2 percent decline in hypermarket sales.

Representing almost 30 percent of group sales, growth markets for the most part reported strong sales gains, in particular Argentina, Brazil and China, whose sales rose by 27.1 percent, 22.4 percent, and 15.2 percent, respectively. All those businesses are bigger than $1 billion. Carrefour published the figures after the close of the Paris Bourse. Its shares closed up 2.3 percent Thursday to close at 27.75 euros, or $35.85 at current exchange.

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