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Ahold Beats Estimates, Quarterly Core Profit Falls

AMSTERDAM, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Dutch supermarket group Ahold reported on Thursday a 7.6 percent fall in core quarterly profit, beating estimates, and it reiterated its full-year operating margin target. Ahold reported earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) of 262 million euros ($331 million), compared with an average forecast of 250.6 million euros from a Reuters poll of 10 analysts. Estimates ranged from 232 million to 265 million euros.

"Price investments made in recent years have strengthened the competitive position of all our banners, but we remain vigilant and will respond to changes in consumer and competitor behaviour," Chief Executive John Rishton said in a statement.

Net profit fell to 195 million euros compared with an average forecast of 188 million. Last year's result include Schuitema, which Ahold has since divested. The supermarket group reiterated its underlying retail operating margin guidance of 4.8 percent to 5.3 percent.

Ahold, which owns the Netherlands' biggest supermarket chain, Albert Heijn, but makes just over half of its sales in the United States, reported last month third-quarter sales at the top end of estimates as a revamp of its U.S. stores gained traction.

It competes with U.S. grocers Wal-Mart Stores and Kroger Co, both of which reported forecast-beating results as shoppers searched for discounts amid the economic slowdown. Ahold shares closed at 8 euros on Wednesday, down 4 percent since its second quarter results on August 28, but outperforming a 42 percent decline in the Amsterdam blue chip index.

(Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block; editing by John Stonestreet) ($1=.7921 Euro) Keywords: AHOLD/ (aaron.gray-block@thomsonreuters.com; +31 20 504 5001; Reuters Messaging: aaron.gray-block.reuters.com@reuters.net) COPYRIGHT Copyright Thomson Reuters 2008. All rights reserved.

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