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Ahold 2003 Sales Fall as Expected; Shares Climb

AMSTERDAM - Dutch food retail group Ahold reported today a 10.5 percent fall in 2003 sales, largely due to the dollar's weakness, and relief that the number was in line with expectations boosted shares by 6 percent.

Ahold reported that sales fell to 56.1 billion euros (U.S.$71.4 billion), hit by a weaker dollar in the United States where the company generates about two-thirds of its sales. Excluding these currency effects, sales would have risen 2.7 percent.

Ahold, the world's third-largest retailer by sales, is bolstering its finances after a 1 billion-euro accounting scandal emerged last February, a corporate fraud case since dwarfed by the financial and legal woes of Italy's Parmalat food conglomerate.

Sales at U.S. Foodservice, the No. 2 U.S. caterer to restaurants and hospitals after Sysco, rose 2.3 percent to $17.8 billion in 2003, while fourth-quarter sales rose 6 percent to $4.2 billion. At Ahold's U.S. retail network, which operates Stop & Shop, Giant, Bi-Lo, Tops, and Bruno's stores, sales rose 2.7 percent to $27.0 billion. Same-store sales, or identical sales, were up 0.1 percent.
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