Delhaize stems U.S. sales decline, to take one-off hit

Belgian supermarkets group Delhaize stemmed four quarters of declining sales in the United States in the final three months of 2012 as consumers spent more at its revamped Food Lion stores.

However, the company also said it would be taking a 300 million euro ($398.9 million) one-off hit in the fourth quarter and a further 90 million euros in the first three months of 2013 related to a revaluation of its Maxi chain in the Balkans, the closure of 34 U.S. Sweetbay stores and U.S. management layoffs.

Delhaize, a leading supermarket chain in Belgium which makes about 65 percent of its sales in the United States, said fourth-quarter sales rose 2.3 percent to 5.763 billion euros ($7.66 billion), broadly in line with the 5.79 billion euros expected in a Reuters poll of eight analysts.

It has been a fiercely competitive end to the year across Europe and the United States, with retailers fighting over shoppers' dwindling budgets through deeper-than-expected discounts.

In the United States, where Delhaize runs Food Lion, Bottom Dollar and Hannaford chains, like-for-like sales were flat. Analysts had forecast a 0.7 percent decline.

Delhaize has revamped many of its Food Lion stores, its largest U.S. brand with a large presence in the sluggish southeast.

In Belgium, a competitive market with Carrefour , Colruyt and hard discounters Aldi and Lidl, like-for-like sales grew by 0.8 percent against the average expectation of a 0.3 percent increase.

Delhaize said its underlying operating profit for the full year would be about 17.5 percent down on the 2011 level. It had previously given a 15-20 percent range, adding since August that the result most likely being at the lower end.

Earlier on Thursday, Dutch rival Ahold said its sales grew 5.1 percent in the fourth quarter, boosted by U.S. customers stocking up ahead of Hurricane Sandy, with 1.4 percent comparable sales growth there. ($1 = 0.7521 euros)

(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Philip Blenkinsop)