Tough pricing and slower emerging markets hit Unilever sales

LONDON Thu Jul 24, 2014 6:15am EDT

Unilever CFO Jean Marc Huet speaks during the Reuters Global Consumer and Retail Summit in London September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Benjamin Beavan

Unilever CFO Jean Marc Huet speaks during the Reuters Global Consumer and Retail Summit in London September 10, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Benjamin Beavan

LONDON (Reuters) - Unilever (ULVR.L) (UNc.AS) missed second-quarter sales expectations on Thursday, citing a slowdown in emerging markets and declining prices in developed ones.

The Anglo-Dutch maker of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Dove soap and Lipton tea said underlying sales - which exclude the impact of foreign exchange, acquisitions and disposals - rose 3.8 percent, below analysts' expectations of 4.3 percent.

"Overall there's a slowdown in Asia," Chief Financial Officer Jean-Marc Huet told Reuters, citing China and Vietnam in particular. "Russia has been difficult, you can imagine why."

For the first half of the year, core earnings per share rose 2 percent to 0.78 euros, handily beating analysts' estimates for a 2.6 percent decline.

But sales volume, measuring the amount of products sold, rose only 1.9 percent against the 2.4 percent gain forecast by analysts and 1.9 percent in the first quarter.

"The absence of quarter-on-quarter acceleration is disappointing," said RBC Capital Markets analyst James Edwardes Jones, especially since a later Easter holiday should have lifted sales in the second quarter at the expense of the first.

Pricing also rose 1.9 percent - slightly ahead of analysts' expectations - but in developed markets it fell 1.4 percent owing to intense competition from rivals and weak consumer spending in North America and northern Europe.

In emerging markets, pricing rose 4.4 percent, as Unilever aggressively tries to offset the profit-sapping effects of currency devaluations and commodity inflation. The company expects foreign exchange rates to shave 5 to 6 percentage points of growth from its full-year sales.

Huet said the global markets in which Unilever operates are now growing at about 2.5 percent, Huet said, down from about 3 percent at the start of the year.

Still, Unilever expects to outperform its markets, he added.

Shares in the company were flat at 1014 GMT after falling 2 percent earlier in the session.

(Reporting by Martinne Geller in London; Editing by Sophie Walker)