* Organic growth 5.9 pct, sales 92.2 bln Sfr, meet forecasts
* Growth in Asia, Americas weaker than expected
* 2012 dividend 2.05 Sfr/shr vs forecasts for 2.09 Sfr
* Reiterates 5-6 pct organic growth target for 2013
* Shares down 2.5 pct after record high on Wednesday
By Emma Thomasson
VEVEY, Switzerland, Feb 14 The world's biggest
food company, Nestle SA, sees no respite this year
from a tough trading environment after sales growth undershot
rival Unilever last year as emerging markets like Asia slowed.
Nestle is trying to keep earnings growing in a flagging
global economy by focusing on its most profitable food
businesses such as infant formula and premium coffee Nespresso.
Its exposure to emerging markets has helped it outperform
rivals like Danone and Procter & Gamble that
are more reliant on sluggish developed economies.
But that has also made the maker of KitKat chocolate bars
and Maggi soup sensitive to any slackening of demand in those
Its expansion in emerging markets, which make up 43 percent
of sales, slowed last year to 11 percent from 13.3 percent in
Analysts said they were disappointed by weaker-than-expected
growth in the last quarter in the Americas, which contributes a
third of sales, and Asia, Oceania and Africa (AOA), resulting in
annual sales growth of 5.2 percent and 8.4 percent respectively.
Chief Financial Officer Wan Ling Martello said there had
been fewer of the one-off events such as typhoons in the
Philippines and social unrest in Egypt that hit sales in the
third quarter, but analysts were underwhelmed.
"Sentiment is likely to take a knock after the disappointing
Q4 performance in Zone AOA," said analyst Ronny Landolt at
Barclays Capital. "This region has not bounced back after a
series of one-offs affected Q3."
Nestle shares, which hit a record high on Wednesday of 64.70
francs after positive news from cosmetics firm L'Oreal
, in which it holds a large stake, fell 2.5 percent to
62.90 francs, underperforming a flat European sector.
Nestle's 2012 underlying sales grew 5.9 percent last year to
92.2 billion Swiss francs ($100.30 billion), in line with a
consensus analyst forecast and implying a slight recovery after
third-quarter growth of some 5 percent.
It said it still saw double-digit sales growth in Africa,
China, the Middle East and Indonesia, helped by strong demand
for products like its Milo chocolate milk and Maggi stock cubes.
Analysts said the revenue expansion was not bringing the
kind of growth in profitability they had hoped for.
Its chief rival, Anglo-Dutch consumer goods group Unilever
, beat expectations with stronger full-year
underlying sales growth of 6.9 percent, propelled by sales of
haircare products and soaps in emerging markets.
Their French competitor Danone publishes its 2012 results on
Nestle shares trade at 17.8 times estimated 2013 earnings,
in line with Unilever but at a premium to Danone's
Nestle's proposed 2012 dividend of 2.05 francs per share was
below an analyst forecast of 2.09 francs.
"We continue to prefer Unilever, which had significantly
better top-line in the second half, and we expect the superior
performance to continue in the first half of 2013," UBS analysts
said in a note.
STRONG WATER SALES
Analysts welcomed growth of 6.4 percent at Nestle's bottled
water business, which was helped by strong sales of premium
brands like San Pellegrino and Perrier as well as its Pure Life
The water business also benefited from U.S. consumers
stocking up due to Hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of
New York and New Jersey in October.
Nestle's water sales had suffered in recent years from
cash-strapped customers switching back to tap water as well as
from criticism from green campaigners.
Chief Executive Paul Bulcke struck a note of caution for
2013, even as he reiterated the company's standard forecast of
underlying sales growth between 5 and 6 percent and underlying
earnings per share growth in constant currencies.
"2013 will have its difficulties certainly, but many
opportunities to leverage our competitive advantages," he said.
CFO Martello said Nestle was still working with competition
regulators on divestments after its $11.9 billion purchase last
year of Pfizer Inc's baby food business. She said she
expected about 15 percent of the business to be sold.
Martello declined to give a forecast for costs of raw
materials like milk, coffee and cocoa in 2013, saying only that
Nestle did not expect as much volatility as in recent years.