Sales squeeze in U.S., Netherlands hits Ahold profits

BRUSSELS Thu Aug 21, 2014 1:18am EDT

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Dutch supermarket group Ahold (AHLN.AS) on Thursday reported weaker-than-expected operating profit for the second quarter, as sales fell in the United States and the Netherlands, its biggest markets.

The group, which operates the Stop & Shop and Giant chains in the United States, where it makes about 60 percent of its revenues, said U.S. like-for-like sales excluding fuel fell 1.8 percent in the second quarter as it lost market share.

The group added that the timing of Easter also affected sales negatively.

Ahold said its operating margin in the United States also fell, as it did not pass on higher wholesale prices for meat and dairy to frugal customers.

In the Netherlands, where Ahold's Albert Heijn chain is the market leader, like-for-like sales fell 1.7 percent in the three months ending June 30, an acceleration of the 1.4 percent fall seen in the first quarter.

Ahold said the fall was due to shoppers on average buying fewer items in the stores, though margins remained stable from the previous quarter.

In Belgium, where Ahold operates 23 supermarkets, like-for-like sales grew by double digits.

Belgian peer Delhaize, with an equally large U.S. operation, in August reported a better-than-expected performance in the United States, with like-for-like sales rising 3.3 percent in its second quarter.

Underlying operating income fell 15.5 percent in the second quarter to 288 million euros ($381.48 million), below the 294 million expected in a Reuters poll of seven analysts.

($1 = 0.7549 Euros)

(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek, editing by Martin Santa)