Ahold U.S. Sales Gain After Shoppers Stocked Up for Sandy

Royal Ahold NV, the Dutch owner of the Stop & Shop chain, reported stronger U.S. sales than some analysts anticipated as American shoppers stocked up with provisions ahead of superstorm Sandy in October.

So-called identical sales in the country gained 1.4 percent, excluding gasoline, in the fourth quarter, Amsterdam-based Ahold said today. That beat a Jefferies estimate for 1 percent growth and Exane’s estimate for a 1.3 percent gain.

“The U.S. is clearly better than expected,” Richard Withagen, an analyst at SNS Securities in Amsterdam, said by phone. The performance was tempered by weaker growth in the Netherlands, where Ahold gets about 47 percent of revenue.

Americans focused on buying necessities such as food in October, the month that Sandy slammed the East Coast, according to the Commerce Department. The storm had a “positive sales impact,” according to Ahold, which also runs Giant stores.

“Our strong performance was partly driven by the exceptional efforts of our teams during Hurricane Sandy, which enabled our stores to remain open,” Ahold said.

The shares fell 0.6 percent to 10.44 euros at 9:15 a.m. in Amsterdam, trimming their 12-month gain to 2.5 percent.

Identical sales in the Netherlands rose 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter, after climbing 2.5 percent in the previous three months, the owner of the Albert Heijn chain said. That was less than the 1.3 percent increase estimated by Jefferies and the 1.6 percent growth anticipated by Exane.

Jumbo Stores

Dutch sales growth was held back by the performance of its drugstore business, said SNS’s Withagen.

Chief Executive Officer Dick Boer has expanded Ahold by buying online retailer Bol.com, adding C1000 and Jumbo stores in the Netherlands and acquiring Genuardi shops in the U.S. The executive said in November 2011 that a minimum of 50 supermarkets will open in Belgium in the next five years, while the company aims to triple online sales to 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) and open at least 150 convenience stores in Europe.

Total fourth-quarter sales rose 7.5 percent from a year earlier to 7.8 billion euros. That compared with the 7.86 billion-euro average estimate of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. The Dutch unit reported sales growth of 7.7 percent, while revenue at U.S. stores gained 4.3 percent. Revenue in Europe, excluding the Netherlands, fell 2.2 percent.

The 15 Genuardi stores acquired in 2012 “performed in line with expectations,” the company said. The retailer doubled the number of pick-up points for online grocery orders and now has eight in the U.S., it said. Ahold also opened its first three pick-up points for online shopping in the Netherlands, it said.

Total sales for all of 2012 gained 8.5 percent to 32.8 billion euros, compared with the 32.9 billion-euro average estimate of 27 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News.

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