Unilever sticks with emerging markets as sales rebound

Tue Jan 21, 2014 8:16am EST
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By Martinne Geller

LONDON (Reuters) - Unilever said it would stick to its emerging markets growth strategy as a fourth-quarter recovery in sales in the region boosted the consumer goods maker's 2013 results and reassured investors who had been worried about consumer demand there.

Unilever generates more than half of its sales in emerging and developing markets, so was hurt by economic weakness last year in countries such as Indonesia and the devaluation of currencies including the Brazilian real and Indian rupee.

However, the Anglo-Dutch firm (ULVR.L: Quote) (UNc.AS: Quote), which makes a vast array of products from Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Lipton tea to Dove soap and Vaseline, said on Tuesday that sales in emerging markets rose 8.4 percent in the fourth quarter, up from a 5.9 percent rise in the third quarter.

"Make no mistake," said Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman. "Growth here remains well above that in the developed world and will continue to do so. We are therefore accelerating our investments in emerging markets and there is no change in our strategy."

By 1145 GMT Unilever shares were up 3.8 percent at 2529.4 pence. The shares had fallen 11.5 percent over the last six months and are flat over the past year, underperforming an average 12 percent increase for its global consumer staples rivals, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Aside from Unilever's own slowing sales, news that rivals L'Oreal (OREP.PA: Quote) and Revlon (REV.N: Quote) had pulled some brands out of China amid a slowdown had stoked the market's unease.

"Investors appear to be breathing a sigh of relief," said Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers analyst Keith Bowman. "Importantly, sales in the emerging markets have seen a rebound, with Russia, Turkey, China and Indonesia notable performers."

Chief Financial Officer Jean-Marc Huet cited strength in Latin America and Southeast Asia, as well as the increased contribution from Hindustan Unilever (HLL.NS: Quote), a venture in which Unilever recently increased its stake.   Continued...

A shopper picks up a box of PG Tips tea bags at a Sainsbury's supermarket in London February 6, 2008. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor