Dutch retailer Ahold has reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter results and unveiled a new share buy-back programme.

The supermarket operator revealed a net income of €219m (£160.2m), up from €215m (£157.3m) during the same period last year.

Ahold chief executive Dick Boer said the retailer had seen “improvements in underlying sales trends, both in the United States and in the Netherlands” in the fourth quarter.

But Boer warned that margins in the Netherlands will remain under pressure as Ahold continues to invest in its online store, Bol.com.

Fourth-quarter underlying margins in Ahold’s US business fell to 3.8% from 4% in the same period of 2013.

The retailer said it expected cash flow for the full year 2015 to remain at a similar level to the 2014 total of €1.055bn (£771.8m).

Ahold said it would buy back €500m (£365.78m) worth of shares in 2015 and proposed a 48 cent dividend for 2014, compared with 47 cents in 2013.

Analysts said this could be “just the beginning,” and predicted that Ahold could return €2.5bn (£1.82bn) to shareholders over the next three years.

Ahold revealed a similar €500m share buyback programme in February 2013 and increased it to €2bn (£1.46bn) by June 2013.