(March 10, 12:30 p.m.) The recession doesn’t appear to have had any negative effect on Ahold, an international chain of supermarkets in the U.S. and Europe.

According to the Amsterdam, Netherlands-based company’s fourth quarter and full year 2008 financial report released March 2, the company’s fourth quarter 2008 net sales were the equivalent of $8.3 billion, an increase of 13% from the same period in 2007.

Operating income was $458 million, $150 million higher than 2007.

Retail operating income was $492 million, an operating margin of 5.9%, up 1% from a year ago. Net income increased $29 million compared with the fourth quarter the previous year.

Chief executive officer John Rishton attributed the gains to the completion of the Value Improvement Program, including the rebranding of Stop & Shop and Giant-Landover stores located mostly in the northeast U.S., according to a news release.

“This strengthened our relative price position and led to market share gains and improved financial results in the second half of the year,” Rishton said in the release. “Meanwhile, Giant-Carlisle continued its strong performance, gaining significant market share.”

For the fourth quarter, net sales at Stop & Shop/Giant-Landover were $4 billion, up 2.8% from the same period in 2007. For the full year, net sales were up 2.4%.

Net fourth-quarter sales at Giant-Carlisle were $1.1 billion, up 7.9% from the previous same period, and up 10% for the full year.

“Although the economic environment continues to deteriorate,” Rishton said in the release, “we believe that the business is well prepared to respond to the effects of recession. We have a strong balance sheet, and we have repositioned our businesses over recent years to give better value to our customers.”