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Ahold: Playing hard ball

Ahold: Playing hard ball

20.09.2012 10:31

Albert Heijn’s CEO Sander van der Laan is determined to play hard ball after price investments have failed to improve the banner’s price perception. Sander was CEO of Albert Heijn in 2010-2011. He was subsequently promoted to COO of Ahold Europe. However, since April 2012 he is back at the helm of Albert Heijn. He now combines both roles (CEO Albert Heijn and COO Ahold Europe). Early this month, Albert Heijn announced that in the next couple of years it will invest heavily in its supply chain in order to cope with expansion while generating additional cost savings. The Dutch subsidiary also sent a letter to its suppliers demanding an extra by 2% discount from 17 September, the starting date of a major campaign (‘Langloop Bonus’) aimed at improving the banner’s price perception. As opposition to the letter mounted, Albert Heijn stated that it would not unilaterally impose the 2% discount. Negotiations with the suppliers are ongoing. Note that rival Jumbo is demanding a 1.25% discount from its suppliers.

Close to 6% REBIT margin in the Netherlands:
During the last conference call Ahold’s CEO Dick Boer stated that he considers a REBIT margin of 6% to be ‘normal’ for the Dutch operations and that for FY12he expects a margin of ‘close to’ 6.0% (our forecast 5.9%). Note that 4Q is seasonally the strongest quarter. Moreover, the new bonus campaign should underpin volumes.

Disposal of stake in ICA:
The group is exploring exit alternatives for its 60% stake in ICA with an IPO being one of the most likely scenarios. We believe that Ahold’s stake in ICA could carry a price tag of € 1.9bn. The disposal proceeds will allow Ahold to launch a new share buy back program or to make a sizeable acquisition. We were surprised by rumours in the press that Ahold was close to acquiring a stake in Pick n Pay, a South African food retail chain. We believe that acquisition(s) in existing or neighbouring markets (e.g. parts of Supervalu) would add more value than ventures into new continents.

Conclusion:
We’ve fine-tuned our forecasts to reflect the recent weakening of the $ versus the € . Our sales growth estimates for 2012 have been lowered for the three regions. For next year, the sales growth estimate has been tweaked down for the US. For the Netherlands (including Belgium) we increased our estimate to reflect the gradual conversion of the transferred C1000 stores and the strong growth of bol.com. We’ve lowered the underlying margin estimate for the Netherlands by 10bps. We believe that the price investments will be largely offset by improving volumes thanks to improved price perception and tough negotiations with suppliers. Our EPS estimate for 2012 remains unchanged. For 2013 and 2014 our EPS forecasts have been lowered by 3%.The sum-of-the-parts method generates an equity value of € 11.4 per share. We maintain our Accumulate rating.

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