Ahold facing €1bn bill for Nordic stake

Related tags Ahold Sweden

Ahold, the Dutch retail group, faces a serious setback in its
efforts to rebuild its financial credibility after its Nordic joint
venture partner Canica decided to sell its 20 per cent stake in the
Swedish ICA group - a stake which Ahold is obliged to acquire.

The last 18 months have been tough for Ahold, with the €1 billion fraud compounded by poor performances from a number of its units, both at home and abroad. But Ahold is now a very different company to that which ignominiously announced the discovery of widespread fraud back in 2003, with most of its Asian and Latin American units sold, its US and European businesses streamlined and a new management team focused on generating real growth.

All of which no doubt makes it all the more frustrating that the company could now have to 'find' an additional €1 billion to buy the 20 per cent stake in ICA previously held by Canica. Under the terms of the three-way joint venture, the ICA Förbundet group had first rights to Canica's shares, but if it did not wish to buy them then Ahold had pledged to do so - a pledge which may now come back to haunt it.

The company has, to be fair, known about the likely enforced acquisition for some time, and has clearly taken steps to ensure that it has the cash available to meet its obligations. But it would undoubtedly have preferred to use the money to invest in its restructuring - and in meeting its goal of earning a new investment rating by 2005.

In any case, Ahold disagrees with Canica's valuation of the stake, and will spend the next three weeks negotiating a more reasonable price with its erstwhile partner. If it fails to do so, the price will be decided via arbitration.

Ahold currently controls 50 per cent of ICA, with ICA Förbundet holding a 30 per cent stake.

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