International home improvement retailer Kingfisher has turned in results well ahead of expectations, on the back of strong Christmas trading.
Kingfisher runs 320 B&Q stores
The company said its sales for the three months to January were up 4.5% on the previous year to £1.65bn.
The firm, which owns UK DIY chain B&Q and Castorama in France, had warned that it might have trouble matching its solid 2002-2003 performance.
But it now says it is expecting top-drawer profits for 2003 as a whole.
The most bullish estimates among analysts predict full-year profits of £618m.
Kingfisher's shares rose 3% in early trading to £3.05, having lagged their peers since the demerger of Kesa Electrical in July on fears of lagging consumer demand.
Waning hopes of a bid from a foreign firm have also contributed, with US giant Home Depot saying the weakness of the dollar made an offer impossible.
Kingfisher's performance is being measured against its continuing operations, not including a string of subsidiaries in Brazil, Canada, Poland, Belgium, Brazil and France which were sold during 2003.
They also adjust for the effects of trading at new stores.
On that basis, the fourth-quarter showing improved on the previous three months' sales growth of 3.6%.
Including sales at new stores, revenues rose 13.7% over the previous year, with the UK and France both rising nearly 10% and sales elsewhere up 38%, driven by a particularly strong performance in Poland.
Kingfisher employs about 55,000 people worldwide, with the bulk of its business in the UK and France.
It employs 27,500 people in the UK and operates 320 B&Q stores.
In France it has 105 Castorama stores and 57 Brico Depot outlets.