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Ahold Fourth Quarter More than Doubles

Dutch retailer Ahold said on Thursday that fourth-quarter net profit more than doubled, thanks to its domestic activities, and said it would increase its share buyback to 3 billion euros ($4 billion).

Profit at the world's fourth-biggest food retailer and foodservice group by sales rose to 240 million euros ($320.9 million) from 108 million euros ($144.4 million) a year ago, beating an average forecast of 169 million euros ($225.9 million) in a Reuters poll of 14 analysts.

Operating income, which included an 84 million euro ($112.3 million) charge related to the sale and closure of U.S. stores Tops, was 199 million euros ($266 million), down from 293 million in the year earlier period.

"Ahold met the targets we set last year. U.S. Foodservice delivered 1.7% operating margin, our retail operations performed in line with our margin guidance and exceeded sales growth guidance," Chief Executive Anders Moberg said in a statement.

Ahold owns the Netherlands' biggest supermarket chain Albert Heijn but makes just over 70% of its sales in the United States from retail outlets and catering supply unit U.S. Foodservice.

It is revamping its U.S. supermarkets and selling U.S. Foodservice, which sources say has attracted bids from several private equity groups and could fetch more than $6 billion.

Operating income at U.S. supermarkets Stop & Shop and Giant-Landover fell $18 million to $162 million in the fourth quarter, with margins hurt by the restructuring plan.

Giant-Carlisle and Tops had an operating loss of $63 million, hit by charges due to the sale of Tops stores.

U.S. Foodservice had $81 million in operating income against a $9 million loss a year ago and an operating margin of 1.8%.

Albert Heijn had an operating income of 100 million euros ($133.7 million), up 31 million.

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