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Q4 Sales Up 5% at Ahold USA

AMSTERDAM — Ahold here said Thursday that its fourth-quarter sales increased by 5% over year-ago levels in the U.S., propelled by identical-store sales gains of 2.9% excluding gas.

Including gas, IDs were up 3.9% in the U.S., and comparable-store sales (which include net sales from relocations) increased 4.2%.

Patrick Roquas, an analyst with Rabobank Securities, Amsterdam, said the ID sales growth was “fully driven by price and slightly negative volumes,” with a stable number of transactions but slightly smaller basket sizes. He had projected ID-sales growth of 2.5% for the quarter.

Total sales at Ahold USA, which includes the Stop & Shop, Giant-Landover and Giant-Carlisle divisions, reached $5.9 billion for the quarter.

For the full year, U.S. sales were up 6.6%, to $25.1 billion. IDs rose 2.9% for the year, excluding gas, and were up 4.9% if gas is included. Comps for the year were up 5.1%.

“We are pleased to have delivered another solid performance over the quarter, growing sales and market share in the United States and the Netherlands,” Ahold said in a statement. “We continue to be well-positioned in challenging market conditions with customers remaining cautious in their spending.”

Overall, Ahold reported a 4.5% increase in sales for the fourth quarter, to about $9.4 billion (U.S.). For the full year, total company sales rose 2.5%, to $38.9 billion.

The company is scheduled to release its full earnings report for the quarter and the year on March 1.

Roquas of Rabobank said he believes the sales growth at the company did not come at the expense of profit margins.

Denise Klug, associate analyst at Planet Retail, described 2011 as “another solid year for Ahold.”

“Gone are its days of planting flags; instead focusing on small-scale acquisitions in markets in the U.S. and logical, risk-averse market entries in Europe are proving to be a winning strategy,” she said.

She also noted that Ahold “is still sitting on a pile of cash that is big enough for a larger acquisition should it find the ideal target.”

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