Unilever Q4 sales narrowly miss estimates amid inflation pressures

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Unilever Q4 sales narrowly miss estimates amid inflation pressures

By Scott Kanowsky 

Investing.com -- Unilever PLC (LON: ULVR ) reported sales growth that was only slightly below analysts' estimates in the fourth quarter, as higher prices helped offset inflation-linked weakness in customer demand and elevated expenses.

Underlying sales growth in the final three months of 2022 came in at 9.2%, translating to overall turnover of €14.6 billion (€1 = $1.0737). Bloomberg consensus estimates had predicted that the growth figure would be 9.21%.

Quarterly pricing at the consumer goods group behind Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Dove soap increased by 13.3%, reflecting a broader push throughout 2022 to account for a cost-of-living crisis that has led shoppers to rein in spending. Volumes during the period dropped by 3.6%.

The result drove annual turnover to €60.1B, topping forecasts of €59.52B despite "significant input cost" pressures across its markets. Prices rose by 11.3% over the 12 months to the end of December, while volumes declined by 2.1%.

"Unilever delivered a year of strong topline growth in challenging macroeconomic conditions," said Chief Executive Officer Alan Jope in a statement on Thursday. "Despite sharp rises in material costs, we have prioritized stepping up our brand and marketing investment."

The U.K.-based group has recently faced heavy scrutiny from activist investors over a disappointing share price and failed takeover bid of drugmaker GSK's (LON: GSK ) consumer health unit. The disquiet has led to a revamping of Unilever's management team, highlighted by the upcoming retirement of Jope, who will be replaced by dairy co-operative Royal FrieslandCampina head Hein Schumacher.

Jope said the company has started 2023 with momentum, "setting us up well for delivering another year of higher growth." But it warned that cost inflation headwinds will likely remain a major factor before easing "significantly" in the second half.

Price growth and negative volumes will subsequently persist over the first six months of the year, Unilever added, while underlying sales growth is anticipated to be at least in the upper half of its multi-year range of 3% to 5%.

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