Shares of Royal Ahold
Ahold, based in the Netherlands, has interests in 9,000 discount and grocery stores worldwide. With trailing-12-month sales of $78 billion, it's the world's third-largest retailer, second-largest food seller, and -- with the BI-LO, Giant Food, and Stop & Shop chains -- the No. 1 supermarket operator in the U.S.
The problems stem mostly from the U.S. Foodservice unit, which may have overstated earnings by more than $500 million over the past two fiscal years. That will force restatements for 2001 and the first three quarters of 2002, and it also delays this year's earnings announcement, which had been scheduled for March 5. According to the company, the only other problems come from "the legality of certain transactions and the accounting treatment" at its Disco Argentine subsidiary.
But wait; there's more. Standard & Poor's cut Ahold's credit rating to "junk" status today, and the whole scenario is bringing back unpleasant memories. One equity dealer is quoted in Reuters as asking, "Is 'Ahold' Dutch for 'Enron'?"
The answer at this point seems to be, "Not likely." However, as the plunging share price reflects, many investors aren't taking the chance today.