Jul 19, 2018
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Unilever sales, profits slump as London exit looms, but beauty is strong

Jul 19, 2018

Anglo-Dutch consumer giant Unilever Thursday revealed a drop in both sales and profits in the first half of 2018, saying markets remained "challenging" as it makes moves to leave its London base.

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Sales fell 5% to €26.4 billion ($30.7 billion) in the first six months, down from €27.7 billion on the same period in 2017. Net profits also slid by 2.4% to €3.2 billion.

The company, which has over 400 household brands in its portfolio, said in a statement it was "a solid, all round performance with some challenging markets."

Chief executive Paul Polman insisted "our expectation for the full year is unchanged," adding the Rotterdam-based company believed it would have underlying sales growth in the 3%-5% range” in 2018.

The group’s Beauty & Personal Care offered some good news as it continued to grow “with innovations behind global and local brands, while expanding the portfolio in attractive segments and channels.”

Skincare performed well, “driven by Vaseline's successful market development campaign, [by] Pond’s and Lakme in India.” 

The prestige business “demonstrated broad-based first half growth of more than 6%.” The 2017 acquisitions Carver, Sundial Brands and Schmidt's all grew “strongly and will contribute to underlying sales growth from 12 months after completion.”

Skin cleansing delivered “good growth helped by new premium formats.” These included aerosol mousse “which delivers an improved sensorial experience” and was launched across five brands in Europe, and the launch of Dove body polish in North America. 

In haircare, volume-led growth was driven by Sunsilk and Dove, “helped by their successful expansion into natural propositions with on-trend ingredients.”

Unilever was founded in 1930 after the Dutch margarine producer Margarien Unie merged with British soapmaker Lever Brothers.

Until now, it has maintained a dual-headed structure, with listings on the London, Amsterdam and New York stock exchanges.

But in March, the company announced it was choosing The Netherlands over London to host its headquarters, dealing a blow to Britain's efforts to keep multinational companies on-side following Brexit.

The move came in the wake of a failed hostile bid by US rival Kraft Heinz last year, which analysts said played a key role in Unilever's decision as the Netherlands has stronger rules to protect companies against takeovers.

But the move to leave London has left many investors uneasy as it may see the company forced to withdraw from the coveted FSTE 100 stock market.

Unilever said Thursday it would hold a general meeting for shareholders on the issue on October 25 and 26, with documents about its position to be sent out six weeks in advance.

Additional reporting by Sandra Halliday

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