U.S. stores help Ahold to 3% quarterly profit rise

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a bag with the logo of Albert Heijn, operated by Ahold Delhaize, the Dutch-Belgian supermarket operator, in Eindhoven, Netherlands, January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Eva Plevier/File Photo

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Food retailer Ahold Delhaize (AD.AS) reported a 3% rise in fourth-quarter core earnings on Wednesday helped by its Food Lion and Hannaford U.S. grocery chains.

It forecast 2020 margins “broadly in line” with last year and mid-single-digit growth in underlying earnings per share.

Underlying operating income rose to 765 million euros ($834 million) for the three months to Dec. 31 from 743 million. Sales rose 5.5% to 17.4 billion euros, helped by a strong dollar.

The results were in line with the profit of 762 million euros on sales of 17.3 billion forecast by analysts, Refinitiv Eikon data showed.

“Total results ended with a strong fourth quarter and good closure of the year. We are, across the numbers, indeed better than consensus, so we are pretty happy with the results,” CEO Frans Muller told Reuters in a phone call.

“On coronavirus, we don’t see that much impact. We don’t have Asian business ourselves, apart from a smaller business in Indonesia.”

In the U.S. market, its largest, where it is concentrated in the eastern United States and also operates the Stop & Shop and Giant chains, comparable sales grew 2.3%, with online sales growth of more than 20%.

The company said it would reach 7 billion euros in group online sales by 2021.

In the Netherlands, where it runs the dominant Albert Heijn chain, comparable sales rose 4.3% and the company said it had won market share for the first time in several quarters, though it did not say how much.

Reporting by Toby Sterling; editing by Tom Hogue and Jason Neely

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