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Ahold's Second-Quarter Sales Higher, Revamp Hurts Margins

Dutch supermarket group Ahold said on Friday second-quarter sales rose 2%, thanks to favorable conditions in its main markets, but a revamp of U.S. stores would continue to hurt margins.

Net sales increased to 6.6 billion euros ($9 billion) from 6.47 billion a year ago, matching an average forecast of 6.6 billion euros from 13 analysts polled by Reuters. Adjusted for currency effects, sales rose 5.6%.

Ahold owns Albert Heijn, the Netherlands' biggest supermarket chain, but derives 60% of its sales in the United States.

"Price investments related to the further roll-out of the Value Improvement Program, launched in September 2006 at Stop & Shop and Giant-Landover, will continue to impact margins," Ahold said in a statement.

Stop & Shop/Giant-Landover, which makes up two-fifths of annual sales, reported a 1.9% rise in sales to $3.9 billion. Identical sales, which includes gasoline sales, at Stop & Shop were up 1.1 percent and 1 percent down at Giant-Landover.

Revenue at Giant-Carlisle, Ahold's second U.S. supermarket chain, increased 13.7% to $1 billion, with identical sales up 2.7%.

Identical sales refer to turnover from the same stores in local currency for the comparable period.

Dutch market leader Albert Heijn posted a 10.3% rise in sales to 1.8 billion euros, in line with analyst forecasts, with identical sales up 6.2%.

Ahold shares closed at 9.12 euros on Thursday. The stock trades at around 18 times forecast 2007 earnings, according to Reuters data, versus smaller Belgian rival Delhaize's 15 times multiple and French supermarket chain Carrefour's 19 times.