Ahold CEO Moberg to Resign, Shares at 42-mth High

Dutch retailer Ahold said on Friday its chief executive will leave the company and named its chief financial officer, seen as more able to deliver on the group's targets, as interim successor.

Ahold, the world's fourth-biggest food retail and foodservice group by sales, said CEO Anders Moberg will leave on July 1 to pursue other interests. John Rishton, currently Ahold's chief financial officer, will be acting president and CEO from July 1, Ahold said in a statement. Rishton will also retain his CFO duties while a successor is found this year.

"We expect Rishton to be the right person to drive a faster operational recovery of U.S. retail and to improve capital efficiency. We believe Rishton is clearly focused on value creation," brokerage Rabo Securities wrote in a note.

Ahold shares hit a 42-month high after the news. The stock was trading 2% up at 9.5 euros, down from 9.54 euros earlier, its highest since February 2003. It led gainers in the DJ Stoxx retail index.

Rishton, 49, respected by analysts for his business acumen and prudence, was appointed chief financial officer in January 2006. He was formerly CFO at British Airways.

Analysts said Rishton had played a key role in trimming Ahold's net debt and improving its working capital efficiencies with his focus on cashflow and corporate center costs.

Swedish-born Moberg, 57, took the reins at Ahold in 2003, then reeling from a 1 billion euro accounting scandal at U.S. Foodservice, its catering supplies business in the United States.

His departure is expected to fuel speculation of a further break-up or even takeover of Ahold. The retailer late last year put U.S. Foodservice up for sale, which sources said could fetch more than $6 billion for the group.

"Moberg's departure is likely to result in renewed speculation about a break-up or possibly a merger with Delhaize ," ING analyst John David Roeg wrote in a note.

Belgian supermarket group Delhaize is seen as a good fit for Ahold. Both have substantial retail activities in the U.S.

Moberg put Ahold back on track by selling more than 3 billion euros of assets, cutting its debt and costs and revamping stores. Critics said his lack of food retail experience was a disadvantage.