By Martinne Geller
LONDON Feb 12 Consumer goods group Reckitt Benckiser reported a rise in sales and forecast further growth this year, despite challenges in emerging markets, and named a new chairman for its declining pharmaceuticals business to help with a strategic review.
The company did not say what option it was leaning towards for the business, which centres on the opioid-dependence drug Suboxone, but some analysts took the appointment of drugs industry veteran Howard Pien chairman as a sign it might be preparing for a sale or spin-off.
"The appointment of a chairman of this business might be taken as implying a spin-out is a serious possibility," analysts at Credit Suisse said in a research note.
CS values the pharmaceuticals business at about 1.5 billion pounds, or just over 200 pence a share.
Shares in Reckitt were up 0.7 percent at 4865 pence by 0856 GMT on Wednesday, valuing the entire group at 35 billion pounds.
Reckitt, whose wide range of household, health and personal brands include Lysol disinfectant and Durex condoms earlier reported that fourth-quarter like-for-like sales excluding its drug business rose 4 percent. The consensus forecast from analysts in a company-supplied survey was for an increase of 4.2 percent.
Including the impact of acquisitions, quarterly revenue excluding Suboxone, rose 7 percent to 2.32 billion pounds. That exceeded company targets, due to swift integration and cost-savings.
"Market conditions are more challenging now than at the beginning of last year, particularly in some emerging markets," Chief Executive Rakesh Kapoor said in a statement. Still, he said he was confident the company's pipeline of new products and investments would deliver growth this year.
Reporting earnings down 4 percent at 238.5 pence a share but up 2 percent at 269.8 pence before exceptionals, the company raised its total dividend by 2 percent to 137 pence a share, including the final payout of 77 pence.
For 2014, Reckitt forecast revenue growth of another 4 to 5 percent, with flat to moderate operating margin expansion, excluding Suboxone.
Reckitt said in October it was considering all options for the pharmaceuticals business, which is declining due to competition from cheaper generic versions. It said on Wednesday that the review was continuing and that it would update investors over the course of the year.
Regarding acquisitions, Kapoor said Reckitt would continue to be active in consumer healthcare, but declined to comment on a recent Reuters report that companies like Reckitt could be interested in buying U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co's $8-10 billion consumer healthcare business.