January 24, 2018 / 6:52 AM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Ahold Delhaize Q4 sales lifted by strong Dutch performance

(Adds details on sales)

AMSTERDAM, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Dutch-Belgian supermarket chain Ahold Delhaize, which has roughly two-thirds of its business in the United States, said on Wednesday fourth-quarter sales rose 1.6 percent to 15.8 billion euros ($19.46 billion), lifted by strong growth in the Netherlands.

The sales figure was at the high end of market expectations.

The company also sees full-year 2017 free cash flow significantly ahead of expectations, it said in a trading update.

Sales in the Netherlands rose 6 percent, while Ahold USA increased 0.6 percent and Delhaize America rose 1.5 percent. Market share in the United States is seen remaining stable year on year, it said.

Ahold Delhaize is facing tough competition from discounters Lidl and Aldi, while its online grocery delivery business, Peapod, must compete with Amazon after its acquisition of Whole Foods.

Online net sales rose 23.2 percent in the quarter at constant exchange rates and reached 2.8 billion euros for the full year 2017, it said in a statement.

Ahold Delhaize said in November, at the release of third-quarter results, that it was on track to meet its free cash flow goal of 1.6 billion euros for 2017 as cost savings for the year would be 250 million euros, better than the initial target of 220 million.

Company-compiled analyst consensus for fourth-quarter sales was 15.68 billion euros.

The company maintained full-year 2017 pro forma underlying operating margin guidance for the group of 3.9 percent. ($1 = 0.8120 euros) (Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Amrutha Gayathri and Gopakumar Warrier)

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