El Corte Inglés is making a "firm bet" on international expansion as the Spanish department store chain looks to boost fortunes after years of slow growth in its home market.

ECI will open a new department store in Oporto, Portugal in mid 2006 and hopes to open new outlets in Italy (apart from stated plans to open a Rome store) and in the Mediterranean basin in the medium term, a company official confirmed. ECI already operates a department store in Lisbon.

The official added that the ECI group (which owns department stores, supermarkets and the Sfera youngsters' fashion chain) will continue to expand domestically with a view to opening shops in Pamplona, Castellón, Malaga, Madrid and Toledo next fall.

The official would not reveal whether the future outlets will be department stores or supermarkets. 

ECI also reported a 6 per cent net profit jump to €611.4 million for its 2004-2005 fiscal year.

Revenues, up 7 per cent to 15.04 billion, where "sharply affected" by the Windsor skyscraper fire, which forced the chain to shut its biggest department store in Madrid, the official added.

By Ivan Castano.