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Delhaize to Cut 5,000 Jobs as Food Lion Owner Shuts Stores in U.S., Europe

Delhaize Group SA (DELB), the owner of Food Lion supermarkets, plans to cut about 5,000 positions and expects a 2.4 percent drop in revenue as it closes stores in the U.S. and Europe.

Costs related to the closures will hurt earnings by about 205 million euros ($261 million) starting in the first quarter, the Brussels-based company said in a statement today. Closing 146 outlets and converting 64 others will cut the number of shops by about 4.3 percent and initially lower revenue by about 500 million euros, or 2.4 percent, Delhaize said.

“We are disappointed in the fourth-quarter revenues in the U.S. and Belgium,” Chief Executive Officer Pierre-Olivier Beckers said in the statement. “Consumers continued to feel pressured in the fourth quarter due to the macro-economic environment and this led to a reduction in spending. We also encountered an increase in competitive activity.”

Consumers continue to be hurt by high levels of joblessness in the U.S. and Europe. The U.S. unemployment rate, which was 8.5 percent in December, may continue to curb spending in the world’s largest economy, where Delhaize gets most of its revenue.

Delhaize fell as much as 7.6 percent in Brussels trading, the biggest drop in five months, and was down 7.4 percent at 43.38 euros at 9:16 a.m. That extended the stock’s decline in the past year to 21 percent, compared with a 13 percent slide for the Stoxx Europe 600 Index.

U.S. Charges

Delhaize expects to record an impairment charge of about 120 million euros in the fourth quarter of 2011, which is related solely to the U.S. operations.

The store closures and conversions will have an “annual positive effect” on operating profit of 35 million euros to 40 million euros after completion, said Delhaize.

Beckers said Delhaize will improve its “price competitiveness” this year.

The food retailer will close 113 Food Lion, seven Bloom and six Bottom Dollar Food locations in the U.S., it said. The remaining 42 Bloom shops as well as 22 Bottom Dollar Food stores will be turned into Food Lion outlets.

Twenty stores in southeastern Europe will also be closed. Delhaize gets most of its revenue in the U.S., where it got 68 percent of its total 2010 sales of 20.9 billion euros, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

In its home market of Belgium, the company, in addition to supermarkets, operates a home delivery service and started to offer online shopping, according to its annual report.

Growth Forecast Cut

Belgium’s central bank last month reduced its forecast for economic growth in 2012 to 0.5 percent, in line with the latest prediction by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In last year’s fourth quarter, Delhaize’s revenue increased by 7 percent at identical exchange rates and by 7.6 percent at actual rates, the company said. The “difficult global macro- economic environment” hurt sales performance across the group, it said.

Delhaize ended 2011 with a network of 3,408 stores, according to the statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vinicy Chan in Hong Kong at vchan91@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Wong at swong139@bloomberg.net

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