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Unilever to focus on growth in US, India, China


Unilever PLC (LON:ULVR) has said it plans to boost its presence in the US, India and China, which currently account for just over a third of the FTSE 100 firm’s turnover.

In the longer term, the consumer goods giant has also set out to grow its underlying revenue by 3%-5%, keeping profits ahead of sales growth and achieving savings of €2bn.

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Restructuring is estimated to cost around €1bn for 2021 and 2022 and lower thereafter, the group said.

In the year to December 31, 2020, Unilever’s turnover dipped by 2% to €50.7bn while profit before tax fell 3% to €7.8bn because of volatility caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The food and home products manufacturer maintained the dividend throughout the year and increased it in the fourth quarter by 4% to €0.4268 per share.

The company ended the year with €20.9bn of net debt including €5.5bn of cash and cash equivalents.

Strict lockdowns in China and India led to market declines in the first half, with both markets subsequently returning to growth during the year.

China has normalised in many categories, while economic activity in India picked up particularly in the final quarter, the group said.

In North America and Europe, elevated demand for food consumed at home has continued to drive market growth, whilst consumer usage of most beauty and personal care categories remains subdued, it added.

In Latin America markets were broadly flat for the year and several South East Asian markets contracted, the Magnum ice cream to Dove soap owner said.

“Unilever is seen as the market’s old reliable friend, trustworthy and dependable no matter the economic backdrop. Coming in short of full year sales forecasts is not the done thing and so Unilever is somewhat punished by investors today for not delivering the required goods,” commented AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould.

“Fundamentally Unilever’s ability to keep thriving despite operating in a highly competitive marketplace is down to the strength of its brands, distribution power and marketing expertise.”

“Achieving a target of underlying sales progression of 3% to 5% a year will take hard work and the shape of the business is likely to keep changing as it focuses on more prosperous areas. That means a mixture of acquisitions and disposals in the coming years.”

Shares dropped 4% to 4,158.64p on Thursday morning.

–Adds analyst comment, shares–

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