Zaandam, The Netherlands – Ahold today published its summary report for the fourth quarter and full year 2014.
CEO Dick Boer said: "In the fourth quarter, we reported a strong sales performance, reflecting a positive currency impact as well as improvements in underlying sales trends, both in the United States and in the Netherlands. Our underlying operating margin was stable versus the previous two quarters, adjusted for the SPAR acquisition. Free cash flow generation during the quarter was strong, with €613 million compared to €485 million last year.
"The actions we took this year across our businesses to improve our customer proposition and to provide better value to our customers resulted in an improving sales performance over the course of the year. Operating income of €1,250 million was slightly higher than last year. Underlying operating margin of 3.9% was impacted by investments in our customer proposition in the United States, strong sales growth from our online business in the Netherlands and our acquisition of the SPAR stores in the Czech Republic. We completed our 2012-2014 Simplicity program and achieved €865 million in cost and efficiency improvements, exceeding our target of €600 million.
"We continued to generate strong free cash flow, amounting to €1,055 million for the year. In May, we executed our €1 billion capital repayment and reverse stock split and by December we completed our €2 billion share buyback program. Today, we are announcing a new €500 million share buyback program over the next 12 months. Following our strong free cash flow, the Board has proposed a 2.1% increase in our dividend to €0.48, reflecting a payout of 51%."
This press release includes forward-looking statements, which do not refer to historical facts but refer to expectations based on management's current views and assumptions and involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results, performance or events to differ materially from those included in such statements. These forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to statements as to dividend and payout ratio, share buyback, competition in the markets in which Ahold operates, the integration of SPAR, customer proposition, costs savings and efficiency improvements, investments, pension costs and cash contributions, free cash flow, capital expenditures, interest expense, effective tax rate, debt repayment, returning cash to shareholders, liquidity, capital structure, leverage ratio, agreements with Albert Heijn franchisees, conversion of stores to the Albert Heijn banner, synergies from the combination of operations, Ahold’s ability to expand its geographic area , Albert Heijn franchise litigation and GRO shares. These forward-looking statements are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from future results expressed or implied by the forwardlooking statements. Many of these risks and uncertainties relate to factors that are beyond Ahold’s ability to control or estimate precisely, such as the effect of general economic or political conditions, fluctuations in exchange rates or interest rates, increases or changes in competition, Ahold’s ability to implement and successfully complete its plans and strategies, the benefits from and resources generated by Ahold’s plans and strategies being less than or different from those anticipated, changes in Ahold’s liquidity needs, the actions of competitors and third parties and other factors discussed in Ahold’s public filings and other disclosures. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date of this press release. Ahold does not assume any obligation to update any public information or forward-looking statements in this press release to reflect subsequent events or circumstances, except as may be required by applicable laws. Outside the Netherlands, Koninklijke Ahold N.V., being its registered name, presents itself under the name of “Royal Ahold” or simply "Ahold."
(1) Excluding Bottom Dollar Food which is included in results from discontinued operations
Frans Muller, President and Chief Executive Officer of Delhaize Group said: “In 2014, we made substantial progress in a number of areas and believe the strategy announced in March of 2014 has resonated with all stakeholders. While we recognize there is still significant work to be done to achieve our ambitions and goals, I am confident in our team´s ability to deliver.”
“Our preliminary unaudited Group underlying operating profit stood at €739 million for 2014, excluding the 53rd week in the U.S., driven by strong sales growth and a relatively stable underlying operating margin at Delhaize America. We generated an operating free cash flow of approximately €585 million. ”
“Our fourth quarter revenues at Delhaize America were solid, partly helped by inflation and both Food Lion and Hannaford reported positive real sales growth. In Belgium our revenues and results were both negatively impacted by disruptions in our stores and in our distribution network. We have the ambition to reach a final agreement with our social partners on the Transformation Plan negotiations soon. In Southeastern Europe, a difficult consumer environment in Greece and Serbia resulted in negative comparable store sales growth.”
“For 2015, our focus will be to further roll-out the Easy, Fresh and Affordable strategy at Food Lion and to implement the Transformation Plan in Belgium, both initiatives focused on the customer. We will also seek to accelerate growth in selected markets. Finally, we will continue to be disciplined with respect to operating costs, capital allocation and working capital.”