WRAPUP 2-Unilever, Beiersdorf show scars of tough times

Thu Nov 3, 2011 6:47am EDT

* Unilever Q3 underlying sales up 7.8 pct, f'cast 6.3 pct

* Warns of flat to slightly lower 2011 profit margins

* Beiersdorf sees nine-month consumer sales up 0.9 pct

* Says nine-month EBIT profits fall to 492 mln euros

* Unilever shares off 1.8 pct, Beiersdorf up 1 pct

By David Jones and Victoria Bryan

LONDON/FRANKFURT, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Two of Europe's biggest consumer products groups showed tough times were catching up on them on Thursday with Unilever warning of flat to lower profit margins for 2011 while Beiersdorf saw only marginal sales growth.

Both were reporting third-quarter results with Anglo-Dutch Unilever cautioning about rising commodity costs and poor consumer confidence, while Hamburg-based Beiersdorf saw a fall in profits as it invested heavily behind its Nivea brand.

"This has been an unprecedented year of nature disasters, geo-political events, depressed consumer confidence while we have continued to invest behind our brands," said Unilever Finance Director Jean-Marc Huet in a conference call.

He added events such as flooding in Thailand, unrest in the Arab world and tough western Europe markets had hit the group as it struggled to offset the sharp rise in the cost of key commodities such as vegetable and crude oil.

The group warned these input costs had risen 15 percent, or 2.5 billion euros ($3.45 billion), this year and commodity prices were still volatile, and so expects underlying operating margins in 2011 to be flat to slightly lower compared to Unilever's previous forecast for a small rise.

Beiersdorf's Chief Executive Thomas Quaas said he was not giving an outlook for 2012 due to volatile markets as the group looks to recovery by investing behind its core skin care brand Nivea and push further into emerging markets.

Group results met consensus forecasts as it held its outlook for 2011, but analysts were concerned about the effect of slowing global growth and the performance of Nivea.

Although Unilever beat forecasts for quarterly sales growth, the warning on margins pushed its shares down 1.8 percent to 2,035 pence by 1030 GMT, while Beiersdorf after early losses recovered to trade up 1 percent at 40.7 euros.

With an array of top brands like Lipton, Knorr, Dove and Lux, Unilever pushed prices up nearly 6 percent while it gained from its higher proportion of sales, some 53 percent, in fast-growing emerging markets than its key rivals.

Quarterly growth of 7.8 percent at the world's third biggest consumer goods group beat a company-compiled consensus of 6.3 percent and came after the first two quarters of 2011 showed growth of 4.3 percent and then 7.1 percent.

This third-quarter growth beat European rivals Nestle at 6.8 percent and Danone 5.9 percent, and U.S. peers Procter & Gamble at 4 percent and Colgate Palmolive at 5 percent.

"Trading conditions in developed markets remain tough as flagged by Nestle. The margin pressure from raw material inflation should now be at its peak and should ease into 2012 if current spot prices persist," said analyst Robert Dickinson at brokers Citi.

Quarterly sales in western Europe declined 0.5 percent depressed by tough trading in the southern euro zone, whereas emerging market showed growth of 13.1 percent. Personal care product like Axe and Sunsilk grew fastest at 11.3 percent.

Beiersdorf, which is cutting back on unprofitable lines as it attempts to regain market share, said nine-month sales in its core consumer division rose 0.9 percent on an underlying basis to 3.57 billion euros. Adding its tesa adhesives business overall nine month sales rose 2.1 percent to 4.28 billion euros.

Last month, the group hired 48-year old Stefan Heidenreich from Swiss group Hero to take over as CEO in April in a sign the controlling Herz family is impatient with the speed of the recovery at the group which, in addition to Nivea, also makes La Prairie anti-ageing cream and Labello lip balm.

The group cautioned that 2011 sales growth will be affected by the streamlining of its product range, but confirmed its targets for group sales to rise slightly this year and for an adjusted EBIT profit margin of between 10 and 11 percent.

"In view of cooling global economic growth, a very cyclical tesa division and uncertainty surrounding the performance of the core brand Nivea, we stick to our sell rating," said analyst Thomas Maul at DZ Bank.

Group comparable earnings before interest and tax for the nine months to end-September slipped 11 percent to 492 million euros, in line with analyst forecasts.

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