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    Ahold Sees Higher Sales in 2002, Improved Fourth Quarter

    AMSTERDAM - The world's No. 3 retailer Ahold met expectations on Tuesday with a 9.2 percent rise in 2002 sales. The Dutch company also said the fourth quarter improved despite languishing consumer confidence in its key U.S. market.

    AMSTERDAM - The world's No. 3 retailer Ahold met expectations on Tuesday with a 9.2 percent rise in 2002 sales. The Dutch company also said the fourth quarter improved despite languishing consumer confidence in its key U.S. market.

    Ahold, which was forced to make two profit warnings last year, also reaffirmed its forecast that 2002 earnings per share excluding goodwill amortization, exceptional items and currency effects would drop six to eight percent.

    "Sales slowed in the course of the year as a consequence of further deteriorating economic circumstances. However, we are encouraged by the fact that we strengthened our position in most markets," Ahold president and CEO
    Cees van der Hoeven said.

    All regions saw organic sales growth improve slightly in the fourth quarter compared to the previous quarter, Van der Hoeven added in a statement.

    Full-year sales rose to 72.7 billion euros ($75.75 billion). Analysts had forecast sales of 72.83 billion euros with estimates ranging from 72.2 billion to 73.28 billion.

    In addition, Ahold reported 0.9 percent identical sales growth at U.S. food retail, which includes U.S. supermarkets like Stop & Shop, Giant-Landover and BI-LO. The U.S. retail division reported a 13.2 percent rise in sales to $26.27 billion helped by the consolidation of Bruno's Supermarkets. Organic sales increased 4.8 percent.

    Sales at the U.S. Foodservice business soared 43.5 percent to $17.4 billion, mainly due to the acquisition of Alliant Foodservice, and organic sales fell 1.9 percent. Ahold's U.S. Foodservice is now the second-largest food distributor to restaurants, hotels, healthcare institutions and sports facilities in the United States after Sysco Corp.

    In the 13 European countries in which Ahold is active, sales increased by 6.4 percent to 23.2 billion euros with organic growth of five percent.

    In Latin America, sales fell 43.9 percent to 2.7 billion euros due to the devaluation of the Argentine peso and Brazilian real, as well as to the deconsolidation of the La Fragua joint venture.

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