Pity the poor Europeans. When it rains they don't eat ice cream, then they feel blue and don't look after their personal hygiene as closely as they should. Or so one would think after hearing Unilever's
The Anglo-Dutch maker of Lipton tea, Dove soap, and the Vermont institution of Ben & Jerry's ice cream said sales growth would be less than 5% for the year and not the 10% it had previously anticipated. Europe's cold, wet summer had caused "substantially lower sales" of ice cream, and dour consumer confidence reports had caused consumers to spend less on personal care products.
Somehow, even when I get into a funk -- for instance, when stock of mine has a bad day, such as Friday, when shares of Hidden Gems pick Flamel
Last year, Fools Jeff Fischer and Rick Munarriz dueled over who was the better purveyor of ice cream, Ben & Jerry's or Nestle's Haagen-Dazs. Perhaps there was something to Rick's assertion that by sticking with plain vanilla, Haagen-Dazs firmed its base while Ben & Jerry's hurt itself by having to come up with new flavors every year.
More prescient was Fool contributor Richard Gibbons' take that Unilever was in need of some juice. He noted that the conglomerate has been having trouble growing revenues lately so that despite a reasonable-looking price-to-earnings ratio of 20, it showed disconcerting limited growth in shareholder value.
Even as Unilever has tried to concentrate its focus on fewer brands, consolidating the number from 1,500 to about 400 so as to invest more heavily in its star products, it still anticipates their growth to be less than it was a year ago. In 2000, the company launched a five-year "Path to Growth" strategy that was supposed to focus on its leading brands. These premier products make up 95% of Unilever's group sales, but they rose less than 0.5% in the first half of the year, and expectations are that they will not make up even their anemic 2003 sales of 2.5%.
With a year to go on its Path and no letup in pain for investors in sight, Unilever appears lost, and the only bath it might be taking is in its stock price.
Fool contributor Rich Duprey showers twice a day. He owns shares of Flamel but not of any of the other stocks mentioned in this article.