UK supermarket Morrisons reported a surprise increase in like-for-like sales over the Christmas period. In the nine weeks to 3 January, like-for-like sales excluding fuel edged up 0.2% from the same period last year.
However, despite the better-than-expected results, Morrisons said it is closing more stores. After announcing the closure of 11 superstores and the sale of 140 convenience stores in September, the grocer's CEO David Potts said an additional seven branches will be shut down.
The closures are part of a bigger restructure within the company. Potts aims to significantly cut overhead costs, as Morrisons' balance sheet remains a cause for concern, despite the positive results. The store closures follow a 47% drop in half-year profits reported in September.
"We are pleased with our improved trading performance over the Christmas period," Potts said. "While there is of course much more to do, we are making important progress in improving all aspects of the shopping trip, and our customers tell us they are pleased with the changes."
"In addition, we have made further progress in debt reduction, and our financial position is strong and getting stronger," he said.
Morrisons is far from out of trouble. The grocer's Christmas sales are not yet back to 2013 levels, having fallen 3.3% in 2014.
Total sales excluding fuel were also down 1.2%. Including fuel, total sales fell 1.7% after supermarkets cut their diesel and gas prices. The supermarket chain is working to reduce its debt, doing better than expected. Morrisons currently has around £1.9bn (€2.5bn, $2.76bn) debt outstanding.
The grocer is troubled as a result of the ongoing supermarket price war which has caused food prices to spiral downwards.