Unilever beats forecasts as emerging markets rebound

Tuesday 21 January 2014 10.51
Unilever sales hit by a slowdown in some emerging markets
Unilever sales hit by a slowdown in some emerging markets

A fourth-quarter recovery in emerging markets sales boosted consumer goods maker Unilever's 2013 results and sent its shares higher this morning as investors greeted the news with relief.

Unilever generates more than half of its sales in developing and emerging markets. 

It was hit hard in the third quarter by slower economic growth in countries such as Indonesia, while it also suffered from the devaluation of a handful of currencies including the Brazilian real and the Indian rupee.

All of these hit consumer demand for Unilever products.

However, the Anglo-Dutch firm, which makes a vast array of products from Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Lipton tea to Dove soap, said sales in emerging markets rose 8.4% in the fourth quarter, up from a 5.9% rise in the third quarter.

The company's chief xecutive Paul Polman said the company was not changing its strategy in emerging markets, despite last year's economic slowdown, and pointed out that growth there remained well above that in developed markets.

The CEO told a conference call that Unilever stood by his goals for 2014, which call for volume growth ahead of its broader markets and improvements in operating margin and cash flow. He noted however that developed markets, which include the US, had not seen any pick-up in consumer demand despite improving economic indicators.

Unilever posted core earnings of €1.58 per share, above analysts' average estimate of about €1.53 a share.

Turnover for the full year fell 3%, hit by foreign exchange rates and divestments. But underlying sales rose 4.3%, slightly ahead of analysts' expectations for a 4.2% gain.

Excluding the impact of foreign exchange, acquisitions and divestitures, overall underlying sales grew 4.1% for the fourth quarter, topping analysts' consensus of 3.9%, according to a company-supplied consensus.

That is up from growth of just 3.2% in the third quarter, after devaluations of certain emerging market currencies hurt demand.