DUESSELDORF (Reuters) — Metro AG, Europe’s fourth biggest retailer, reported quarterly operating profit ahead of expectations and said it expected “satisfactory” Christmas trading despite a slow start to the season in Germany.

 

Metro said operating profit before special items fell 4 percent to 418 million euros, or $520.8 million, in the final quarter of its 2013/14 fiscal year, beating an average analyst forecast for 369 million.

 

It had already reported sales of 15.1 billion euros.

 

The sprawling German group, which runs cash and carries, supermarkets, department stores and Europe’s top consumer electronics chain, is in the midst of slimming down its portfolio and cutting costs to try to revive its fortunes.

 

Shares in Metro have fallen 31 percent this year largely due to its exposure to the weak Russian ruble and after it halted a stock market listing of a stake in its Russian cash-and-carry operation due to market turmoil over the Ukraine crisis.

 

Chief executive officer Olaf Koch said in a letter to shareholders that it was impossible to say when the group would be able to resume the listing plan.

 

Metro, which did not pay a dividend last year, has proposed to resume payments at a level of 0.90 euros per share.

 

Metro shares were indicated 2.5 percent higher ahead of the market opening on Tuesday.

 

Metro said Christmas trade had started to pick up in the first two weeks of December after a slow start to sales, particularly of food and textiles, in Germany in November, in part due to unseasonably mild weather.

 

Metro said it expected a “slight” rise in sales and earnings for the 2014/15 financial year that started in October despite “the persistently challenging economic environment”.

 

Metro recently sold its cash-and-carry business in Vietnam and Greece and its stake in British wholesale company Booker as well as withdrawing from the Danish market.

 

Metro said those transactions should enable it to invest in future growth and strengthen its balance sheet, with net debt down 736 million euros year-on-year to 4.7 billion at Sept. 30.

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