* Spar has investments in Switzerland and Ireland
* Sales hit by share issues, weak economic growth at home
* Headline earnings per share for six months slips 0.9 pct (Recasts lead with CEO quotes, adds details on Swiss plans)
By Nqobile Dludla
JOHANNESBURG, May 31 (Reuters) - South African retailer and wholesaler Spar Group aims to double its market share in Switzerland to 4 percent in four years, its CEO said on Wednesday, part of an effort to expand outside its weak home market.
Spar, a grocery chain which also sells building materials and medicine in Southern Africa, reported an almost 1 percent fall in earnings per share in the six months to March, which it partly blamed on poor consumer demand in South Africa.
South African retailers have struggled to grow earnings at home amid weak economic growth exacerbated by credit ratings downgrades and political uncertainty.
Spar, whose European investments include a store chain in Ireland, now has 2 percent market share in Switzerland after it acquired a 60 percent stake in Spar Holding AG for 44.5 million Swiss francs ($45.69 million).
“All we need is 4 percent and then we double our business and that we should be able to do relatively easily,” Spar Chief Executive Officer Graham O‘Connor told Reuters by telephone.
Spar plans to open 15 to 20 stores in the next three or four years in the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, with its first Spar Express store opening in there early in the second half of the year, O‘Connor said.
He said Spar would “do even more than that in the German-speaking side.”
Spar reported its headline earnings per share fell to 475.5 cents for the six months ended March 31 from 480 cents a year earlier, undermined by share issues to fund foreign acquisitions and to settle share schemes for black investors.
Sales rose 12.6 percent to 47.4 billion rand ($3.62 billion), slowing from 16.7 percent growth a year earlier.
The board declared an interim dividend of 240 cents, down from 255 cents a year earlier.
“In South Africa, the tough trading environment is likely to persist for the balance of this year, particularly with the political uncertainty undermining consumer and business confidence,” Spar said.
S&P Global Ratings and Fitch cut South Africa’s rating to “junk” in April and Moody’s put it on review for a downgrade after a cabinet reshuffle in which former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who investors respected, was fired.
The outlook in BWG Group, the Irish retailer Spar bought in 2014, is “cautious” due to uncertainties following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
Shares in Spar were down 2.78 percent to 170.89 rand at 0953 GMT.
($1 = 13.1100 rand)
$1 = 0.9739 Swiss francs Editing by Amrutha Gayathri and Edmund Blair