Unilever's Shares Rally as Sales Jump 10%

LONDON -- The shares of Unilever (LSE: ULVR.L  ) (NYSE: UL  ) gained 3% to 2,324 pence in early London trade this morning after the consumer goods group announced its third-quarter sales had jumped 10%.

The FTSE 100 member said turnover during July, August, and September reached 13.4 billion euros, assisted by price inflation of 2% and volume growth of 3%.

Paul Polman, Unilever's chief executive, said: "I am pleased that we have again reported good quality growth, with volumes ahead of our markets. This consistent performance, despite continued high levels of competitive intensity, depressed economies and increasing global imbalances and uncertainty, shows that the Unilever transformation is well on track and is being embedded deeply in the business."

Unilever's statement revealed good progress throughout the group. In particular, increased demand for Comfort fabric conditioner and Surf washing powder helped the home care division report underlying sales growth of 11%. Meanwhile, greater sales of Tresemme shampoo and Dove soap helped the personal-care division deliver 8% growth.

Notably, underlying revenue from emerging markets gained 12% to 7.4 billion euros during the third quarter and now represents 55% of Unilever's top line. Sales within the blue chip's developed markets slipped 1%.

Unilever also declared a dividend of 19.8 pence per share for the quarter. Polman added:

Looking forward, it is clear that the environment will remain challenging. Commodity cost inflation is high and remains volatile and there is no sign that the level of competition will ease. In this challenging environment there is no change to our objectives, which remain: profitable volume growth ahead of our markets, steady and sustainable core operating margin improvement and strong cash flow. For 2012 we remain on track to deliver a modest improvement in core operating margin.

Prior to today, City experts reckoned Unilever's current-year earnings would advance by 12% to about 159 pence per share, which would place the shares on a P/E of 14.6. A predicted 79 pence per-share dividend would provide a possible 3.3% income. Those ratings do not look as attractive as those of the wider FTSE 100, which trades at about 11 times profits and provides a 3.7% dividend income. That said, the nature of Unilever's defensive business and the firm's current growth rate may justify a higher valuation.

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Maynard does not own any share mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has recommended shares in Unilever. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.


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