Full-year profit at Unilever soars, sales edge lower

Model Bella Hadid has become the face of Unilever's Magnum ice cream

Model Bella Hadid is the face of Unilever's Magnum ice cream

Analysts, on average, were expecting 3.5 percent, a consensus forecast supplied by the company showed. Former CEO Paul Polman was pushing for Unilever's headquarters to be moved to Amsterdam from London in light of Brexit.

Unilever posted a 5.1% decline in turnover to 50.98 billion euro (£44.65 billion), which the company blamed on foreign exchange headwinds of 6.7% and the disposal of the spreads business, which was completed last July.

Jope appears focused for the moment on improving business trends at the group, whose sales are at the bottom end of its medium-term targets, due to issues including hyperinflation in Argentina, intense competition in North America and weak retail environments in France and Germany.

"We anticipate underlying sales growth will be in the lower half of our multi-year 3%-5% range, with continued improvement in underlying operating margin and another year of strong free cash flow". On an underlying basis, full year sales rose 2.9% with prices up 0.9% and volumes up 1.9%.

He said: "Looking forward, accelerating growth will be our number one priority".

Alan Jope, who recently replaced Paul Polman as chief executive, said: "In 2019 we expect market conditions to remain challenging".

The Anglo-Dutch group, which is working to move on from last year's botched plan to shift its main headquarters to the Netherlands, saw its shares fall almost 3 percent on Thursday as the sales miss overshadowed full-year earnings that were ahead of expectations.

Unilever has said it is stockpiling Magnum and Ben & Jerry's ice cream, in preparation for a no-deal Brexit.

Jope explained that the real issue is volatility in emerging markets, when we see notable slowdowns in places like Argentina, Brazil, and Southeast Asia then that is why they come in at the lower end of the growth range.

"We remain on track for our 2020 goals".

Despite last year's exacting market conditions, the compounding star turn's enviable portfolio of global brands and emerging markets presence helped Unilever shrug off sluggish, ultra-competitive developed markets.

Shares fell 2.9% to 3,945p.

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