AMSTERDAM, March 1 (Reuters) - Dutch grocer Ahold on Thursday reported lower-than-expected fourth-quarter operating profit of 328 million euros, up 11.2 percent from a year ago, and warned of a tough year ahead because of the global macroeconomic environment.
Ahold owns the leading Dutch supermarket chain, Albert Heijn, and makes about 60 percent of its sales in the United States.
Analysts had forecast operating profit of 337 million euros.
“We expect 2012 to be another challenging year for the food retail industry, the macroeconomic environment means that consumers still continue to look for value and competition will remain intense,” Chief Executive Dick Boer said in a statement.
“Our strong brands are well positioned to make progress in our major markets, however, we anticipate sales growth in the first quarter will reflect the difficult economic conditions, as well as the timing of Easter.”
Boer said Ahold would take further steps to improve the group’s capital structure by investing in growth, reducing debt and returning cash to shareholders. (Reporting by Sara Webb)