* Net profit up 23.7 pct to 303 mln Sfr
* In line with 306 mln Sfr forecast in poll
* Confirms long-term growth target
* Shares down 2.4 pct after strong run
By Silke Koltrowitz
ZURICH, March 11 Growing demand for luxury
chocolates in Europe and increasingly the Americas and Asia
should help Lindt & Spruengli to grow sales and profit
margins this year, despite high cocoa prices, it said on
The Swiss maker of Lindor chocolate balls and gold foil-
wrapped chocolate bunnies posted a 23.7 percent rise in 2013 net
profit, and confirmed its long-term goals for 6-8 percent sales
growth and a 20-40 basis point improvement in operating margin.
Chocolate makers saw sluggish growth last year, but Lindt
fared better than many thanks to consumer demand for affordable
luxuries, which helped it to gain market share in its main
region of Europe and grow rapidly elsewhere.
Barry Callebaut, the world's biggest chocolate
supplier, said in January that sales of gourmet chocolates were
fuelling a pick up in demand for chocolate.
"Lindt stands out from staples peers as being able to drive
high single-digit growth from the developed markets compared
with peers 0-1 percent rate," Credit Suisse analysts said.
Lindt predicted a slow economic recovery this year, with
high raw material costs and pressure from retailers to keep
prices low posing challenges.
Chief Finance Officer Dieter Weisskopf said that, with a
looming cocoa bean deficit in 2013/14, prices for cocoa beans
were likely to stay high, but it was difficult to make any
forecasts. "They could stabilise at current levels, but that
depends on many factors. There are huge speculative positions."
ICE May cocoa futures have risen more than 10 percent
this year, hitting a 2-1/2-year high last month.
Executive Chairman Ernst Tanner said tensions between Russia
and Ukraine were not having any impact on Lindt's business at
the moment. Russia is the world's second-biggest chocolate
market. It is still relatively small for Lindt, though the firm
was exposed to sudden drops in the Russian rouble, Tanner said.
The Swiss group said it had set up a subsidiary in South
America via a joint venture with Brazilian chocolate maker CRM
Group, as it continues to expand in emerging markets.
Lindt said its net profit rose 23.7 percent - or 11.4
percent on a like-for-like basis - to 303 million Swiss francs
($345 million) last year, in line with analyst expectations.
Its operating margin climbed to 14.0 percent, a comparable
improvement of 40 basis points.
In January, Lindt posted an 8.6 percent rise in underlying
sales for 2013 on the back of double-digit growth in North
America, where it is expanding from a low base.
Sales in North America should top $1 billion this year,
North America head Andreas Pfluger told a media conference.
By comparison, Mondelez International posted a 3.9
percent rise in underlying sales in 2013, while sales at
Nestle's confectionery business were up 5 percent.
At 1400 GMT, Lindt shares were down 2.4 percent, lagging the
European food sector index and handing back some of
their recent strong gains. The stock had risen more than 10
percent this year, after a 35 percent surge in 2013.
"(Lindt) is clearly a step above pretty much any other food
company in terms of performance - however, it is also priced
well above anything else in the space," Kepler Cheuvreux analyst
Jon Cox said, confirming his "hold" rating on the stock.
Lindt shares are trading at almost 30 times forward
earnings, well above Barry Callebaut's 20 times.
Lindt said its share buyback programme, initiated in the
autumn, would be completed by the end of 2014. It proposed a 13
percent increase in its dividend to 65 francs per participation
certificate and 650 francs per registered share.