April 18, 2019 / 6:11 AM / 2 months ago

Unilever first-quarter sales top expectations

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Unilever is seen at the headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

LONDON (Reuters) - Consumer goods group Unilever reported stronger than expected quarterly underlying sales growth, helped by higher prices and volume, and strength in emerging markets.

The maker of Dove soap and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream also on Thursday stood by its outlook for the full year, which calls for underlying sales growth in the lower half of a 3 to 5 percent range.

Rival Nestle also reported better-than-expected first-quarter sales on Thursday.

Following its first quarter under new chief executive Alan Jope, Anglo-Dutch Unilever also stood by its 2020 target for an underlying operating margin of 20 percent, set by Jope’s predecessor Paul Polman in the wake of 2017’s rebuffed $143 billion takeover offer by Kraft Heinz .

Unilever’s underlying operating margin was 18.4 percent in 2018.

In the first quarter, Unilever’s underlying sales, stripping out acquisitions, disposals and currency moves, rose 3.1 percent. Analysts on average were expecting a 2.8 percent rise, according to a company-supplied consensus forecast.

Growth was balanced, with a 1.9 percent contribution from pricing, which is less than analysts expected, and 1.2 percent from volume gains, which is more than expected.

Chief Financial Officer Graeme Pitkethly told Reuters that many of the price increases were taken in emerging markets, where it is often easier to hold onto sales volume despite price increases.

Turnover fell 1.6 percent to 12.4 billion euros, due to the disposal of the spreads business.

Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Mark Potter and David Holmes

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