French retail group Carrefour has reported an 11.6% rise in annual pre-tax profit and said its focus for 2004 was to improve performance at its hypermarkets in France.

For the year to December 31, Carrefour said pre-tax profit rose to 2.8bn euros from 2.5bn euros in 2002. Sales climbed 2.6% to 70.5bn euros from 68.7bn euros last year. The company opened 969 stores over the period.

Sluggish consumer demand in France saw sales rise just 1.7%, while the rest of Europe and the Americas achieved 8% growth, with sales in Asia up 17%.

Carrefour said its implementation of tight cost controls saw financial charges fall 12% in 2003 to 464m from 527m. And that it had reduced debt by 1.1bn.

The French group plans to open a further 900 stores in 2004.

Carrefour added that its core family shareholders and chief executive Daniel Bernard have agreed to renew their shareholder pact.