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Toilet rolls and painkillers - Britons stock up ahead of Brexit, Morrisons says

Toilet rolls and painkillers - Britons stock up ahead of Brexit, Morrisons says
FILE PHOTO: A Morrisons supermarket is seen in Weybridge, Britain, August 19, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo -
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By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) - Toilet rolls and painkillers are some of items Britons have started to stockpile ahead of a potential no-deal Brexit, supermarket Morrisons said on Wednesday, as it posted a rise in profit and paid its third special dividend in a year.

Chief Executive David Potts said there were signs of a "small amount" of stockpiling and that Morrisons, Britain's fourth-biggest supermarket group, was well prepared whatever happened in the Brexit process.

With just 16 days to go until it is due to leave the European Union, Britain has still not agreed a withdrawal arrangement, raising the risk of a disorderly "no-deal" Brexit.

"We've seen quite a tick-up in painkillers and toilet rolls (sales) ... up high single digits," Potts told reporters.

"In the event of things getting sticky at the ports, we'd look for alternative routes into the country," he added, saying the company had obtained Authorised Economic Operator status, which should speed-up border checks in the event of hold-ups.

Potts also said the firm had brought forward some purchases of goods and packaging materials to support its manufacturing division, and stockpiled popular "cupboard fillers".

Morrisons reported a 9 percent rise in underlying pretax profit to 406 million pounds for the year to Feb. 3. That compared with analysts' average forecast of 407 million pounds and 374 million in 2017-18.

The company, which trails market leader Tesco, Sainsbury's and Walmart's Asda in annual sales, said total revenue rose 2.7 percent to 17.7 billion pounds, with like-for-like sales up 4.8 percent, though growth did slow in its fourth quarter.

"We remain confident that Morrisons still has many sales and profit growth opportunities ahead, and expect that growth to be meaningful and sustainable," the firm said.

Shares in Morrisons, up 6 percent this year prior to the update, were down 1 percent at 0913 GMT.

Potts joined Morrisons in 2015 to lead a recovery after it was hit by the rise of discounters Aldi and Lidl in its northern England heartlands and strategic errors by previous management.

Although the discounters are still winning market share from all of Britain's big four grocers, Potts has delivered three years of like-for-like sales growth thanks to more competitive prices, improved product ranges and availability as well as better customer service in refurbished stores.

He has also overhauled Morrisons' online strategy through a renegotiated deal with Ocado and struck wholesale supply deals with Amazon, the McColl's convenience chain, MPK Garages forecourt stores, Channel Islands retailer Sandpiper and Big C in Thailand.

Morrisons is also unique among its major competitors in making half of all the own brand and fresh food it sells. It says two thirds of what it sells is British.

Potts said this set-up meant it was protected if the government imposed tariffs on some imported goods in a no-deal Brexit scenario.

Morrisons said it would pay a final ordinary dividend of 4.75 pence per share and a special dividend of 4.0 pence, taking total payouts for the year to 12.6 pence, up 24.9 percent.

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Mark Potter)

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