AMSTERDAM — Ahold here said fourth-quarter profits surged as the multinational retailer saw sales gains and kept costs in check, although it issued a cautious outlook for 2012.
“We expect 2012 to be another challenging year for the food retail industry,” said Dick Boer, chief executive officer, in a conference call with analysts discussing results. “The macro-economic environment means that consumers still continue to look for value, and competition will remain intense.”
The company — which 10 years ago appeared to be on the brink of bankruptcy after a devastating accounting scandal — posted net income for the year of 1 billion euros, or about $1.33 billion U.S., a 19.2% gain over 2010 results.
At the company’s U.S. businesses, which include the Stop & Shop, Giant-Landover and Giant-Carlisle chains, operating income was up 25%, to $225 million. As previously reported, sales for the quarter were up 5%, to $5.9 billion, including 2.9% gains in identical-store sales, excluding gas.
For the year, operating income in the U.S. totaled $1 billion, up 8.7%, on a 6.6% gain in sales, to $25.1 billion. IDs for the year were also up 2.9%.
The company cited progress in particular at the former Ukrop’s locations in the Richmond, Va., market, which it has converted to its Martin’s banner under the Giant of Carlisle division.
Although the acquired stores lost money for the fourth quarter and the full year, the chain “made great progress in terms of top-line improvement and in terms of profitability,” said Jeff Carr, chief financial officer, Ahold. “We’ll expect it to continue to make that improvement, and it’s due to make more improvement next year.”
Separately, Ahold last week said it has agreed to acquire bol.com, the Netherlands’ largest online retailer, for $470 million.
“Bol.com provides us with the platform, scale and expertise we need to accelerate our growth in online retailing,” Boer said in a statement. “Its capabilities and operations in nonfood categories will broaden our assortment and increase our online presence.”
Ahold said bol.com is the most visited retail website in the Netherlands with 3.4 million active customers and sales of about $475 million in 2011. It offers a range of nonfood products, including books, entertainment, electronics and toys.