Morrisons today beat forecasts with a 9% rise in first half profit after Britain's fourth biggest supermarket group delivered its best quarterly sales performance for nine years. 

The company said it was confident about the future, despite Britain's imminent departure from the European Union, raising its interim dividend by 11.4% and also paying a special dividend.

For the six months to August 5, Morrisons made an underlying pretax profit of £193m - just ahead of analysts' average forecast of £192m and up from £177m made the same time last year. 

In its second quarter group like-for-like sales, excluding fuel and VAT sales tax, rose 6.3% - an eleventh quarter of growth in a row, having risen 3.6% in the first quarter. 

Chief executive David Potts said second quarter sales were helped by Britain's record-breaking summer heatwave, the soccer World Cup and the Royal Wedding as well as the firm's own initiatives. 

Potts, a former Tesco executive, joined Morrisons in 2015 to lead a recovery after it was badly damaged by the rise of discounters Aldi and Lidl and the strategic errors of previous management. 

Potts is broadening Morrisons' business by improving the performance of its nearly 500 UK stores while also pursuing growth in online and wholesale markets.  

He has overseen a steady improvement in trading, driven by more competitive prices, improved product ranges and availability as well as better customer service in refurbished stores. 

Potts has also overhauled Morrisons' online strategy through a renegotiated agreement with distributor Ocado  and struck wholesale supply deals with Amazon and the McColl's convenience business. 

Since the half-year end, the group has agreed new wholesale deals to supply MPK Garages forecourt stores and Big C in Thailand. 

It said £700m of annualised wholesale supply sales were now expected to be achieved ahead of initial end-2018 guidance, with £1 billion of annualised sales still expected in due course. 

"We are confident that Morrisons has many meaningful and sustainable sales and profit growth opportunities ahead," said Potts. 

In April Sainsbury's, the UK's second biggest supermarket group, agreed a £7.3 billion cash and shares takeover of Walmart's Asda, the third biggest UK supermarket chain.

This combination could overtake current market leader Tesco as Britain's biggest supermarket group. 

While Morrisons would become the number three player in the UK market, it would be about a third of the size of Sainsbury's-Asda and Tesco.