AMSTERDAM — Volumes were flat but inflation — along with an assist from Hurricane Irene — led to a “robust” third quarter for Ahold's U.S. stores, officials said last week.
Sales at Ahold's U.S. stores — which include the Stop & Shop, Giant of Carlisle, Pa., and Giant of Landover, Md. banners — improved by 8.5% to $5.8 billion, with identical-store sales excluding gas rising by 4.5%. The sales results were well ahead of analyst expectations of 2% ID-sales growth.
U.S. operating income was $237 million, up 18.7% from the same period a year ago, and operating margin in the U.S. improved to 4.1% of sales from 3.7% last year. That figure also exceeded analyst estimates, said Patrick Roquas, an analyst for Rabobank Securities.
“I'd say it was a robust quarter for Ahold,” Dick Boer, chief executive officer, said in a conference call discussing results.
The sales improvement included an estimated 1% boost in sales resulting from customers shopping ahead of, and re-stocking behind, Hurricane Irene, which hit the Northeast in late August.
“I compliment our people in the U.S., our staff, because our stores were very well prepared for the hurricane,” Boer said. “The number of stores that had to be closed was very limited, and we could serve our customers in the best way during this devastating period.”
Gary Giblen, a New York-based analyst for Aegis Capital, said Ahold has been able to capitalize on struggling rivals and has ridden the economy well.
“It's a combination of external factors and effective internal initiatives,” Giblen told SN.
Boer said that Ahold was able to pass along its higher costs to customers but noted U.S. shoppers remained focused on values. He noted however that the pace of inflation was softening in the U.S., noting that dairy for example was not increasing at the same rate it was earlier in the year.
Although rival Delhaize, reporting results for the same period a week earlier, said its sales momentum slowed considerably toward the end of the quarter, Boer said Ahold experienced no such effect.