ANALYSTS hailed a strong finish to the year for consumer goods giant Unilever today.
Sales jumped 10.5% to £45.4bn on current exchange rates and pre-tax profits rose from £5.52bn to £5.91bn.
The group, which employs 750 staff at its Port Sunlight plant where it makes Persil laundry products, said underlying sales growth was 6.9% ahead and 11.4% better in emerging markets, which now make up 55% of turnover.
Unilever chief executive Paul Polman said today: “We continue to make good progress in transforming Unilever into a sustainable growth company.
“We have reported another quarter of good quality, profitable growth ahead of our markets. All categories and all geographies grew with a good overall balance between volume and price.”
He added: “These results have been achieved in tough economic conditions, with volatile commodity costs and in an intensely competitive environment.
“They reflect the progress made in delivering bigger, better innovations and rolling them out faster, improving our execution in the market place and increased discipline driving savings in all areas of the business.”
He said: “We continued to invest behind our brands, again increasing advertising and promotions spend. I am pleased to report that Magnum and Sunsilk have joined the group of 1bn euro brands in our portfolio, bringing the total to 14.
“This gives us confidence that Unilever is becoming fit to win. Importantly, we achieved these results while continuing to lay the foundations for the long term.
“However there is no room for complacency: markets will remain challenging, with intense competition and volatile commodity costs.
“We remain focused on achieving another year of profitable volume growth ahead of our markets, steady and sustainable core operating margin improvement and strong cash flow.”
Graham Jones, at Liverpool stockbroker Panmure Gordon, highlighted a strong fourth quarter which yielded a 7.8% growth in like-for-like sales, against Panmure’s forecast of 6.8%.
He said: “With two recent disposals in US foods, we expect Unilever to continue its favourable skew to faster growing categories in 2013 estimates.
“It is encouraging to see Unilever’s cash flow improving from 3.1bn euros in 2011 to 4.3bn euros, and net debt ended the year at 7.4bn euros, down from 8.8bn euros in 2011.
“The outlook remains the same; further sales growth ahead of the market and continued steady and sustainable margin expansion.”