Supermarket giant Woolworths has pleased investors with its full-year sales figures, with a strong fourth quarter lifting the result.
Overall, the Woolworths group reported sales of $56.7 billion in the 2012 financial year, an increase of 4.7 per cent on the previous year.
The key supermarket business recorded a 4.9 per cent annual rise in sales, however much of this growth was driven by an 11.4 per cent increase in petrol sales (mostly due to higher fuel prices).
Excluding fuel, the Australian food and liquor business grew sales 3.8 per cent over the past year, boosted by 1.3 per cent growth in the fourth quarter.
The company's chief executive Grant O'Brien says he is happy with the result.
"Woolworths is pleased with the 4.7 per cent growth in its full year sales result," he said.
"The result is underpinned by continued growth in customer numbers, market share and unites sold.
The last quarter in particular was a stronger end to what was a challenging year." Share investors seem to agree with his assessment, with Woolworths shares rising 1.2 per cent to $27.94 amid a broader market that was down 1.2 per cent at 11:17am (AEST).
Woolworths says it increased market share in food and liquor, despite intense competition in the sector, although it says its sales results were adversely affected by falling prices in the produce, seafood, bakery and deli areas.
The grocery giant says its standard (non-sale) prices remained steady across the year, and average shelf prices actually fell 0.7 per cent in the three months to the end of June.
That is another indicator pointing towards what most economists already expected to be a very low official fourth quarter inflation number to be released by the Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday.
Woolworths says its Big W discount department store chain also saw an improvement in sales towards the end of the financial year, with sales rising 4.6 per cent in the final three months to eke out a 0.5 per cent rise over the year.
Big W's director Julie Coates says the Federal Government's various payment increases towards the end of the financial year provided a boost.
"There was an additional uplift in sales in the last five weeks of the year as a result of the government assistance programs," she observed.
"Areas that traded well include everyday essential items across the store, in particular across the apparel areas." Woolworths also posted a 4.4 per cent rise in hotel revenues, including a 5.4 per cent jump in the fourth quarter compared to the same period a year earlier.
The company says most of the growth was not driven by gaming revenues which, on comparable sales figures, grew 0.7 per cent compared to 2 per cent comparable sales growth for the hotels division overall.
The company's electronics division, which it is seeking to divest, posted strong 10.4 per cent sales growth in the fourth quarter, as the Dick Smith electronics business cleared stock.