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ID NEWS: Ahold warns 2003 outlook to be negative, reports DOL investigation, also possible USF facil

Royal Ahold, Zaandam, The Netherlands, has submitted its Annual Report 2002 on Form 20-F to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and has issued a warning that its 2003 outlook will be negatively impacted by "the distractions caused by the events surrounding the announcement on February 24, 2003 and the related investigations."

In February, Ahold had announced irregularities in accounting discovered at its Columbia, MD, based U.S. Foodservice (USF) subsidiary that impacted several years or results and were primarily responsible for the 2002 restatement. The delayed filing indicates 2.63 billion euros of goodwill write-offs are related to the foodservice business.

All told, Ahold reported a 4.33 billion euro ($5.0 billion) net loss under U.S. GAAP accounting rules after heavy goodwill charges.

Operating expenses--excluding the impact of currency exchange rates, goodwill impairment charges and a 2002 loss related to the default of Velox in Latin America--can be expected to be significantly higher in 2003. According to an analyst quoted by Reuters, a huge equity issue is likely on November 7, to protect shareholder equity.

In addition, Dow Jones Newswires reports that Ahold has said that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is conducting a civil investigation of the company's Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in the U.S. Furthermore, Ahold said that USF is considering closing a limited number of distribution facilities at which employees are subject to collective bargaining agreements and is discussing the issue with the relevant bargaining units.

Earlier in the week, Ahold announced a new ceo for USF: Lawrence Benjamin, formerly ceo of NutraSweet. (See ID Report 10/18/03 or web news 10/14/03).
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