Unilever review covers costs, deals, balance sheet: FT

Wed Mar 15, 2017 6:37am EDT
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LONDON (Reuters) - Unilever (ULVR.L: Quote) (UNc.AS: Quote) is considering returning cash to shareholders, making medium-sized acquisitions and more aggressive cost cuts as part of its business review, the Financial Times reported.

The Anglo-Dutch maker of Knorr soups, Dove soap and Ben & Jerry's ice cream rebuffed a surprise $143 billion takeover offer from Kraft Heinz KHC.O last month.

Chief Financial Officer Graeme Pitkethly said at a conference the week after the bid was made public that Unilever would review its options including examining its portfolio, organization, cost structures, balance sheet and uses of cash.

"We do see it as an inflection point," Pitkethly said at the conference in Florida.

Unilever declined to comment on possible outcomes of the review, whose results will be announced in April.

Separating the company's food business from its home and personal care businesses is unlikely, the FT said, citing people close to the company, though it is accelerating efforts to dispose of its struggling spreads division.

Unilever is also considering raising its net debt to 2.5 or 3 times earnings before interest, tax and depreciation, from 1 times now, the FT said.

At 2.5 times, Unilever would have 29 billion euros to spend by 2020, according to Andrew Wood, analyst at Bernstein, who suggested mid-sized deals such as Reckitt Benckiser's (RB.L: Quote) home business could be a good fit.

Unilever's division heads have been told to review their operations with the aim of boosting shareholder returns, the FT said. The company has already announced a program to save 1 billion euros by 2018.   Continued...

The company logo for Unilever is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid