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LONDON -- U.K. retail giant and convenience store operator Tesco reported a sharp rise in first-half profits, and said it believes it is well placed to meet the challenges of tougher comparisons during the second half.

The company posted a 24.4 percent rise in underlying pre-tax profit to £822 million (U.S. $1.48 billion) for the 24 weeks up to Aug. 14, while pre-tax profit rose 28 percent to £804 million.

Sales rose 12.2 percent to £16.5 billion, a rise of 13.7 percent at constant exchange rates. U.K. sales rose 11.5 percent to £13.1 billion, while U.K. like-for-like sales rose 8.3 percent, including volume of 8 percent.

"These results demonstrate the growing success of the four-part strategy we began seven years ago," said CEO Terry Leahy. "I am particularly pleased about the way we've done it. This year, we have cut our prices by £5 million a week, we are creating 20,000 jobs, our efficiency savings will hit £270 million and we are improving returns for shareholders. We are well-placed to meet the challenges of tougher comparisons during the second half."

The company now has more than 380 Express convenience stores in the United Kingdom, and expects to hit its target of 500 Express stores this year before Christmas, several months earlier than planned.
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