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PREWRITE: Delhaize Profit Drops More Than Expected

By Anna Marij van der Meulen Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES AMSTERDAM -(Dow Jones)- Belgian supermarket retailer Delhaize NV (DELB.BT) Wednesday said first quarter net profit fell 3.2%, due to higher expenses in the U.S., which also hurt its U.S. margin, while U.S. comparable sales were boosted by inflation. "The first quarter was, as planned, impacted by investments that will bear fruit later this year" said Chief Executive Pierre-Olivier Beckers. Analysts had expected a drop in margin and profit, but were nevertheless disappointed by the results, sending the shares down 4.7% to EUR55.37 at 0730 GMT. KBC Securities analyst Pascale Weber said the drop in margin was stronger than expected. Delhaize's first quarter net profit fell 3.2% to EUR126 million while sales rose to EUR5.04 billion from EUR4.97 billion in the first quarter of last year. Its margin dropped to 4.3%, from 4.8% last year with a drop in U.S. operating margin to 4.6%, from 5.3%. At the presentation of fourth quarter results in March, Delhaize warned that the first quarter would be hurt by higher selling, administrative and general expenses in the U,S. where the retailer is active through its Food Lion, Hannaford and Sweet Bay chains and competes among others with Ahold NV's (AH.AE) Stop&Shop chain, Wal Mart and Supervalu Inc. (SVU). The U.S. accounts for two thirds of Delhaize's revenue. Delhaize's U.S. comparable sales of stores open longer than a year declined 0.3% in the first quarter, from a 0.8% drop in the fourth quarter of 2010, when U.S. earnings improved despite intense competition and the tough economic climate. Delhaize said the improvement is due to inflation. Supervalu recently reported a 5% drop in comparable sales for its fiscal quarter ending Feb. 26. -By Anna Marij van der Meulen; Dow Jones Newswires; +31 20 5715 216; annamarij.vandermeulen@dowjones.com

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