LONDON - British discount retailer B&M said on Thursday it would forgo 80 million pounds ($108 million) of COVID-19 business rates relief, following the stance taken by the country's major supermarket groups. B&M, which entered the FTSE 100 index in September, has seen its sales soar during the pandemic as its low prices and out-of-town stores chimed with consumers. The group's stores have been allowed to stay open through UK lockdowns because they sell some food, along with its ranges of everything from homewares and toys to electricals. "Although significant uncertainty remains, the group believes it is now right to forgo the business rates relief granted to B&M," it said. But it called on the government to create a level playing field that requires all essential and online retailers to contribute proportionately in terms of taxation and business rates. B&M said that over the first nine weeks of its third quarter there had been steadily improving customer numbers, with like-for-like sales growth slightly ahead of the first half's. It expects growth to moderate over the balance of the year. It forecast core earnings (adjusted EBITDA) for the full 2020-21 year to be in the range of 600-650 million pounds, ahead of a current consensus of 571 million pounds. The earnings forecast is prior to the payment of business rates. B&M shares closed down 0.7% at 475.4 pence. The stock has risen 29% in 2020, giving it a market capitalisation of 4.8 billion pounds - more than that of both Sainsbury's and Morrisons, Britain's second and fourth biggest supermarket groups by sales. REUTERS
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