Zaandam, the Netherlands, November 4, 2020 – Ahold Delhaize, one of the world’s largest food retail groups and a leader in both supermarkets and e-commerce, reports third quarter results today.
"As COVID-19 continues to impact our communities, I am increasingly proud of our teams' performance. Their intense focus on the safety of our stores and distribution centers and their persistent efforts to provide outstanding service to our local communities are commendable. In Q3, we sustained important investments in additional safety measures, enhanced associate pay and benefits, and significant charitable donations, which resulted in approximately €140 million in COVID-19-related costs in the quarter, and €470 million year to date.
"The operational execution by our teams remains outstanding and has continued to drive strong Q3 performance in both the U.S. and Europe. Our results reflected our ability to leverage our leading local digital and omnichannel platform, which generated nearly 115% net consumer online sales growth in the U.S. and nearly 50% growth in Europe in the quarter, at constant exchanges rates. While there remains a high level of uncertainty in the market, our strong year-to-date performance allows us to raise our 2020 underlying EPS outlook once again.
"We continue to adapt to changes we are seeing in consumer shopping patterns and behavior. Over the coming years, we will invest in our business to solidify our position as an industry-leading local omnichannel retailer and increase our share of the consumer wallet. We will find ways to improve our online productivity and are on track to achieve the €1.9 billion cumulative cost savings target by 2021. To benefit all of our stakeholders, we aim to strike the appropriate balance between investing in the health and safety of associates and customers, supporting our local communities, prioritizing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives, and returning capital to shareholders.
"We therefore remain committed to our policy for a 40-50% dividend payout ratio and are today announcing a new €1 billion share repurchase authorization for 2021, which is a testament to the strength we continue to see in our business model."
Ahold Delhaize will continue to solidify its position as industry-leading local omnichannel retailer in 2021 and beyond, concentrating on the following three areas:
Group net sales were €17.8 billion, up 6.8%, or 10.1% at constant exchange rates, driven largely by 10.5% comparable sales growth excluding gasoline. Group comparable sales were mainly driven by demand related to COVID-19. Group net consumer online sales grew 62.6% in Q3 at constant exchange rates. Group underlying operating margin in Q3 was 4.6%, up 0.2 percentage points from the prior year at constant exchange rates, benefiting largely from higher operating leverage due to higher sales trends related to COVID-19. This was offset in part by significant costs related to COVID-19, which amounted to approximately €140 million in Q3.
U.S. comparable store sales excluding gasoline grew 12.4%, due largely to the COVID-19 outbreak. Brand performance was strong across the board, led by growth at Food Lion and Giant Food. Online sales in the segment were up 114.7% in constant currency. U.S. underlying operating margin was 5.0%, up 0.6 percentage points from the prior year at constant exchange rates, driven largely by operating leverage from higher sales growth due to COVID-19, offset in part by significant costs related to COVID-19.
Europe's comparable sales excluding gasoline grew 7.5%, due largely to demand related to COVID-19. Net consumer online sales in the segment were up 48.6%. Underlying operating margin in Europe was 4.3%, down 0.5 percentage points from the prior year at constant exchange rates. Operating leverage from higher sales growth was largely offset by higher costs related to COVID-19 as well as €11 million of pension expense in the Netherlands during the quarter and the lapping of one-time items that benefited margins in the Netherlands in the prior year's quarter. Excluding these impacts, underlying operating margin in Europe would have been unchanged versus the prior year.
At bol.com, the online retail platform in the Benelux included within the Europe segment's results, net consumer sales grew by 45.6%. Bol.com's sales from third-party sellers grew 73% in the quarter, with nearly 37,000 merchant partners on the platform.
Ahold Delhaize's net income was €68 million, down 84.9% in the quarter due primarily to a previously announced €577 million provision for a U.S. pension plan withdrawal. Underlying income from continuing operations was €530 million, up 8.6% in the quarter. Diluted EPS was €0.06, down 84.4%, and diluted underlying EPS was €0.50, up 12.3%. Nearly 7.5 million shares were purchased in the quarter for €186 million, bringing the total amount to €705 million in the first three quarters of the year.
COVID-19 continues to create significant uncertainty for the remainder of 2020, though, due to the Company's strong performance so far this year, guidance for underlying EPS is being raised to the high-20% range from low-to-mid-20% growth previously. The group will reach its €7 billion net consumer online sales goal in 2020, one year ahead of plan.
Underlying operating margin in 2020 is still expected to be higher than 2019.
The 2020 free cash flow outlook of at least €1.7 billion is reiterated and includes the effect of paying the majority of the previously announced €577 million pre-tax obligation to withdraw from the UFCW International Union – Industry Pension Fund in Q4. The capital expenditure guidance of around €2.5 billion is maintained and reflects the Company's accelerated investments in digital and omnichannel capabilities. In addition, Ahold Delhaize remains committed to its dividend policy and share buyback program in 2020, as previously stated. A new €1 billion share buyback program has been authorized, to start at the beginning of 2021.
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Forward-looking statements are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors that are difficult to predict and that may cause the actual results of Koninklijke Ahold Delhaize N.V. (the “Company”) to differ materially from future results expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. Such factors include, but are not limited to, risks relating to the Company’s inability to successfully implement its strategy, manage the growth of its business or realize the anticipated benefits of acquisitions; risks relating to competition and pressure on profit margins in the food retail industry; the impact of economic conditions on consumer spending; turbulence in the global capital markets; political developments, natural disasters and pandemics; climate change; raw material scarcity and human rights developments in the supply chain; disruption of operations and other factors negatively affecting the Company’s suppliers; the unsuccessful operation of the Company’s franchised and affiliated stores; changes in supplier terms and the inability to pass on cost increases to prices; risks related to corporate responsibility and sustainable retailing; food safety issues resulting in product liability claims and adverse publicity; environmental liabilities associated with the properties that the Company owns or leases; competitive labor markets, changes in labor conditions and labor disruptions; increases in costs associated with the Company’s defined benefit pension plans; the failure or breach of security of IT systems; the Company’s inability to successfully complete divestitures and the effect of contingent liabilities arising from completed divestitures; antitrust and similar legislation; unexpected outcomes in the Company’s legal proceedings; additional expenses or capital expenditures associated with compliance with federal, regional, state and local laws and regulations; unexpected outcomes with respect to tax audits; the impact of the Company’s outstanding financial debt; the Company’s ability to generate positive cash flows; fluctuation in interest rates; the change in reference interest rate; the impact of downgrades of the Company’s credit ratings and the associated increase in the Company’s cost of borrowing; exchange rate fluctuations; inherent limitations in the Company’s control systems; changes in accounting standards; adverse results arising from the Company’s claims against its self-insurance program; the Company’s inability to locate appropriate real estate or enter into real estate leases on commercially acceptable terms; and other factors discussed in the Company’s public filings and other disclosures.
Forward-looking statements reflect the current views of the Company’s management and assumptions based on information currently available to the Company’s management. Forward-looking statements speak only as of the date they are made, and the Company does not assume any obligation to update such statements, except as required by law.