Ahold’s 1Q12 results will be released pre-market on Wednesday 6 June, followed by a conference call at 2:00pm CET.
Negative calendar effect
At the beginning of March, management indicated that 2012 will be another challenging year for food retailers amid trading down by consumers and persistently fierce competition. In the US, consumer spending on food is being dampened by high petrol prices. There is also a negative calendar effect. Last year, the end of the 16-week 1Q coincided with the Easter weekend. This year however, 1Q included the slow week after Easter. This calendar effect is expected to have a negative impact of respectively 100bps and 50bps on the top lines of the US and the Netherlands. The adverse effect on operating margin is estimated at respectively 20bps and 10bps. US operations also face tough comparables because harsh winter conditions in 1Q11 prompted people to eat at home.
Sales are expected to rise by 6.8% to € 9,881m (CSS € 9,811m) or by 3.5% at identical exchange rates. Identical store sales growth excluding gasoline is set to reach 1.5% (CSS 1.0%) in the US, 2.0% in the Netherlands (CSS 1.5%) and -2.0% in Central Europe (-1.6%).
We see the group’s underlying operating margin declining by 25bps to 4.5% (in line with CSS) in 1Q12 on the back of the above-mentioned negative calendar effect and competitive pressure. Comparables will be particularly tough in the US, where themargin is set to contract by 30bps to 4.3%. For the Netherlands we bank on a relatively stable margin of 6.0%.
Assuming flat financial charges of € 70m (CSS € 72m), a tax rate of 25% and a € 30m (CSS € 25m) contribution from associates, we arrive at net profit of € 311m (CSS € 301m) in 1Q12 versus € 291m in 1Q11. ICA’s net profit recovered from SEK 254m in 1Q11 to SEK 438m in 1Q12, as the operating results of all divisions improved.
We maintain our Accumulate rating ahead of the 1Q12 results. Even though the stock is trading at very attractive valuation multiples, we remain concerned about deteriorating consumer confidence in the Netherlands, which makes up close to 50% of the group’s profits. Confidence among Dutch consumers remains very weak as they worry about their future financial position in the face of falling house prices, the € 13bn austerity package that was recently approved by the Dutch caretaker government and unemployment, which has hit a six-year high. Consumer spending fell by 1.1% in 1Q12 versus 1Q11.