Accounts scandal puts Ahold assets into play

The future of the world's third largest supermarket group is effectively in the hands of its creditors following Monday's announcement that last year's profits would be US$500 million (£312 million) lower than anticipated.

Dutch group Ahold blamed 'overstatements of income of promotional allowance programs at US Foodservice' for the shortfall and said the 2001 accounts would also have to be restated. Total debts are reportedly EUR12 billion.

One international retail specialist, who asked not to be named, said: 'The company is now clearly owned by its creditors and not its shareholders.

'There are a number of assets that Ahold may have to consider selling and the banks will be looking at anything that will raise the money.'

He said: 'There are opportunities for major retailers in a number of markets that until now were impenetrable.'

He said Sainsbury's, via its US business Shaw's, might be keen to acquire some of the North American assets.

A source at one leading continental European retailer said: 'The word Enron is on everyone's lips. But we are still in the shadow of the announcement and nothing is clear yet. Wal-Mart would certainly be interested in taking a second major step into continental Europe and there would also be opportunities for Carrefour and Tesco in the US.'

Carrefour declined to comment on its plans but a response is expected when it posts results on Wednesday.

An Ahold spokesman said: 'It's too early to speculate on many of the issues that are being put in front of us.'[QQ]