LONDON -- There are things to love and loathe about most companies. Today, I'm going to tell you about three things to love about Unilever (LSE: ULVR) (NYSE: UL). I'll also be asking whether these positive factors make this FTSE 100 consumer goods giant a good investment today.
Unilever made a bold move at the end of 2008: For the first time in the company's 80-year history, it appointed an outside chief executive, rather than promoting from within.
Paul Polman had 27 years with Procter & Gamble under his belt and three years at Nestle when Unilever poached him. In light of the progress Unilever has made over the last few years, the appointment of Polman is looking increasingly like an inspired decision.
Polman's belief in responsible capitalism and his philosophy of running Unilever for the long term will accord with the views of many Foolish investors. Hats off to Polman for thumbing his nose at hedge fund managers and traders by ditching Unilever's previous policy of providing the market with quarterly earnings forecasts.
There's no better advertisement than U.S. investing legend Warren Buffett for the idea that backing companies with strong consumer brands is a great way to build wealth over the long term. Investing in businesses such as The Coca-Cola Company has helped make octogenarian Buffett a billionaire many times over.
Unilever has one of the strongest and most diverse stables of consumer brands around. As I wrote recently, no fewer than 15 of the company's brands made it into the top 50 "world's most chosen consumer brands" in a recent independent survey -- almost double the number achieved by the next-most prolific company, Procter & Gamble.
Up, up, and away
Unilever had an early presence in emerging markets, and these markets have gone from generating 20% of group revenue during 1990 to 57% today. The company indicated in a presentation a couple of years ago that it expects this to soar to 70% by the end of the decade.
Unilever's exposure to higher-growth markets is well ahead of the competition, giving the company an engine with the potential to power superior returns for shareholders.
A good investment?
I was bullish on the investment case for Unilever in several articles for The Motley Fool in the spring of 2011. At that time, you could pick the shares up for less than £19, paying 13 times forecast 12-month earnings. Today, the shares trade at £28.42, and investors are paying 19 times earnings.
Unilever has a CEO with a long-term vision for the company, great consumer brands, and an enviable position in emerging markets. But are the shares a reasonable value today at 19 times earnings -- a premium to the 16-times rating of the FTSE 100?
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