Morrisons supermarket reports fall in half-year profits

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Media captionMorrisons' boss Dalton Philips says investing in convenience stores and online channels has hit profits

Morrisons, the UK's fourth largest supermarket chain, has reported a fall in half-year profits, citing "challenging" market conditions.

Pre-tax profits fell to £344m for the half-year to 4 August, compared to £440m in the same period last year.

The "economic backdrop remains difficult for the consumer", said chief executive Dalton Philips.

Morrisons is to offer online shopping from the end of January 2014 after finalising an agreement with Ocado.

"Whilst early indications of a recovery in the UK economy are encouraging, we are yet to see this impact on consumers' pockets", the company said.

Total turnover for the period remained the steady at £8.9bn, the same as last year, but like-for-like sales - which strip out the effect of new store openings - fell 1.6%.

Morrisons' share price ended the day up 1.7% after the company said it expected an improvement in second-half sales performance.

Online shopping

Some retail analysts believe Morrisons has struggled to keep up with its rivals - Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's - because of its lack of online shopping facility and its slowness in rolling out smaller convenience stores.

The company believes its £216m partnership agreement with Ocado, which also operates Waitrose's online shopping facility, will help it catch up, after writing off £27m trying to develop its own online business.

Morrisons said its was "on track" to have 100 convenience stores operating this year.

Its investment in online shopping and convenience stores will "increase our accessible market by around 40%", the company said.

The popularity of online shopping was reflected in Ocado's own quarterly results released today.

Its gross sales rose 16.4% to £189.2m for the 12 weeks to 11 August, compared to the same period in 2012, while the average number of weekly orders rose 15.3% to 138,889.

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