Dutch retail group Ahold posted a 24% drop in first-quarter net profit today (28 May), hurt by higher taxes and a financial charge for assets sold off.

The owner of the Stop & Shop supermarket chain in the US said net income for the three-month period to 19 April dropped to EUR196m (US$272.4m), from EUR261m in the same period a year earlier. The figure reflected a EUR66m net provision for lease guarantees for BI-LO and Bruno’s.

Operating income, however, increased to EUR396m, up 17.9% on the previous year. Retail operating income was EUR414m, equating to a retail operating margin of 4.8% compared to 4.9% in 2008.

Net sales were also up, reaching EUR8.7bn, a 15.2% increase on the comparable period of 2008. At constant exchange rates, net sales increased by 6.2%.

“In our first quarter, we continued to make good progress with our strategy for profitable growth. We had strong sales and solid margins in the Netherlands and the United States, despite the challenging economic environment,” said CEO John Rishton.

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The company’s Stop & Shop and Giant Landover divisions were “the strongest in many years”, Rishton said, helping grow market share and margin.

Combined net sales for Stop & Shop and Giant Landover increased 3.6% to reach US$5.3bn. Identical sales were up 3.1% at Stop & Shop (4.8% excluding gasoline) and up 3.6% at Giant-Landover (3.6% excluding gasoline), despite lower pharmacy sales.

Operating income was $242m (or 4.5% of net sales), up $40m, and included a non-recurring rent charge of $15m.