WM MORRISON, the smallest “big four” supermarket, reported another stellar rise in like-for-like sales yesterday, helping it to book a 45 per cent pre-tax profit rise to £449m in the first half.<br /><br />Morrisons, which has staged an industry-beating sales boom in the recession, said profits were in-line with expectations and that 19 stores it bought from the Co-operative Food chain are now up-and-running, ahead of schedule.<br /><br />But like-for-like sales growth in the six months to 2 August of 7.8 per cent was slower than the 8.2 per cent growth seen in the first quarter.<br /><br />Group chief executive Marc Bolland cautioned the sales growth is set to subside, adding he is now focused purely on outperforming rival stores. “The firm will remain the best-performing supermarket, he said. “This is a good set of results.”<br /><br />He said the new stores acquired from the Co-operative Food chain that were opened in the period are already performing strongly. They are delivering 50 per cent higher sales compared to before their acquisition and refurbished by Morrisons, vindicating the group’s approach to store layout which revolves around a covered “Market Street” selling fresh produce, he said.<br /><br />Underlying profits before tax and one-off items at the group were up 22 per cent at £359m, on turnover up five per cent to £7.5bn. The group hiked its interim dividend by 35 per cent to 1.08p a share on the solid performance.