* Q3 like-for-like growth 5 pct, beating market expectations
* Reaffirms target of growing underlying sales by 3-4 pct
* Shares up 5 percent
By Paul Sandle
LONDON, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Consumer goods group Reckitt Benckiser said like-for-like sales grew 5 percent in the third quarter, underpinned by a strong performance in emerging markets and better trading in North America and Europe.
The growth, ahead of the 4-percent rate in the first half and better than the market expected, sent Reckitt's shares to the highest level since the group was created by a merger nearly 13 years ago.
The British maker of Finish dishwasher tablets, Nurofen painkillers and Cillit Bang cleaners was trading 5.17 percent higher at 3,821 pence by 1329 GMT.
Chief Executive Rakesh Kapoor said the group had seen an "excellent" performance from emerging markets, and an improved performance in Europe and North America.
"Growth came from all core areas and categories," he said in a statement on Wednesday.
Analysts were expecting sales growth 4 percent, according to a consensus quoted by Espirito Santo Investment Bank, with a weak top-line performance in mature markets constraining growth.
But Europe and North America confounded predictions with a return to growth of 2 percent, against declines of 1 percent in the previous two quarters.
"This looks to have been driven by a good performance in Health in the United States, though pricing and performance in Laundry (Southern Europe) has also stabilised," said analysts at the bank.
Deutsche Bank said Reckitt's strong growth went against the grain of most staple stocks, which are seeing a sales slowdown.
"Europe-North America and Homecare are the two standout areas and augment still good growth in emerging markets and health/hygiene categories," Deutsche analysts said.
Reckitt said it was well positioned to meet its 2012 goals, with market growth now expected to be at the top end of a 1 to 2 percent range.
The company is targeting underlying sales growth 200 basis points ahead of its market growth - a 3 to 4 percent increase - with margins held steady.
Reckitt's heroin addiction treatment Suboxone contributes the vast majority of its pharmaceutical profit. Kapoor said the company was making very good progress with a film version of the product to replace tablets.