Unilever NV (UN)

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Unilever Plc (UN)

Q4 2011 Earnings Conference Call

February 2, 2012 3:30 PM ET

Executives

James Allison – Head, IR

Paul Polman – CEO

Jean-Marc Sidney Huët – CFO

Analysts

Bob Waldschmidt – Merrill Lynch

Michael Steib – Morgan Stanley

David Hayes – Nomura

Jeremy Fialko – Redburn

Harold Thompson – Deutsche Bank

Xavier

Thomas Russo – Gardner Russo & Gardner

Marco Gulpers – ING Bank

Jon Cox – Kepler Capital Markets

Presentation

James Allison

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Unilever’s fourth quarter and full year results presentation. We appreciate your continued interest in our business and you taking the time to join us here today.

The presentation of our results this morning will be given by Paul Polman, our Chief Executive Officer, and by Jean-Marc Huët, our Chief Financial Officer. Also joining us this morning in the audience are several members of the Unilever leadership executive. Paul will begin with his reflections on the progress we’ve made over the last 12 months. He will put our performance in 2011 into a strategic context, looking not only at the quality of our results, but also at the foundations we’ve been building for the long-term future of Unilever.

Jean-Marc will then take you through our 2011 performance in more detail before Paul concludes his perspectives on what is sure to be another challenging year in 2012. Of course, at the end, there will be plenty of time for your questions at the end of the presentation.

As usual, I draw your attention to the disclaimer relating to forward-looking statements and non-GAAP measures. And with that, let me hand you over to Paul for his opening remarks.

Paul Polman

Good morning, everybody. I’m actually pleased to see this photo here of this mood-enhancing Magnum, one of the great innovations that we have. And we certainly need a lot of those in Europe these days. So, I hope that gets reflected in our sales numbers.

Anyway, glad to see so many familiar faces in the audience. And thank you for joining us today again, as well as for welcome to those that are listening to us around the world. This year just ended, and it certainly has been a challenging year. It’s probably one of the most challenging that I can remember in my career in fast-moving consumer goods.

The global economy is not in the best shapes ever. And I fully agree with the views that were expressed last week, when I was in Davos, by Christine Lagarde, who said the world economy is deeply in the danger zone. In 2011, we had some major hurdles to overcome, consumer demands across Europe and North America was sluggish at best and even in the fast-growing emerging markets, we’ve seen some signs of softening, as I have pointed out to you before.

Inflationary pressures were high, almost as high as in 2008 and at a level not experienced by many of our major peers. And on top of this, we had to contend with the series of natural disasters and geopolitical disruptions that you’re all familiar with in many parts of the world. Against that background, I’m actually pleased that our performance has been robust. We are growing again ahead of our markets, gaining share overall and maintaining reasonable volume growth, despite having taken significant pricing, quite different than what we saw in 2008. And we’re doing this whilst defending our profitability and strongly investing in our brands and the future of this great company.

So, the results for the year are good, particularly given the environment. But more importantly is the fact that we’re taking the right actions for the long-term, implementing our strategy with speed and discipline. And as a result, we are now building sustainable growth models for our business.

Now, let me begin with some brief highlights of the year’s results. Our focus on innovation and discipline is starting to pay out. Underlying sales growth was once again ahead of the market and accelerated in the year to reach 6.5%, and double-digit as you’ve seen in the emerging markets. We’re also increasingly seeing the benefits of making clearer choices. Good strategies are about clear choices.

Growth was especially strong in the emerging markets, as I said, 11.5% for the year as a whole, with a very encouraging 4% volume growth. This growth is ahead of the market and consistently so, both over time and across the wide range of emerging market geographies in which we compete. Pricing and volume also once more are ahead of our competitive set, as you could see as well.

And Personal Care is now one-third of our total business, and it continues to accelerate. Full-year underlying sales growth for that business was 8.2%, with more than half of it coming from volume. So, our overall top-line performance has been strong and our market shares reflect this, with gains in our global value shares, both for the last 12 weeks and for the year as a whole.

Now, we did set out to achieve modest margin expansion in 2011 in line with our delivery in the last two years. We came close but did not quite achieve this. And that, as you know, for someone who likes to achieve like myself, this is a disappointment.

But I think it’d also be fair that we put a little perspective here. In light of what our competitors are showing, you see that, but more importantly, the 10 basis points decrease in operating margin, we’re talking about €50 million we could have funded very easily. This was despite significant one-offs that I talked about, mainly related to these political uprisings and natural disasters and our mix not quite working for us yet as we talked in Istanbul. But more importantly, we were comfortable with that because we invested for the future, in the long-term future of this business, rather than striving to only hit cosmetically some short-term targets.

As a result, we’ve actually grown strongly, added more than €2.2 billion in turnover, gained market share, strengthened our brands with more investments. Again, we invested in advertising and promotion, as you see, which is now over €6 billion for the company, and built capabilities in many areas: leadership, that’s the organization, our investments in 25 factories, and the list goes on. And that’s an investment just in capital of €2 billion for the future of this company.

Now, this is performance which demonstrates that we’re building the new Unilever for the long term and that we are getting closer to a stronger and more competitive business than you’ve ever seen in the past. I certainly would like to thank the organization for having gone the extra mile in these very difficult environments.

So, let me explain to you what is helping us to build this new Unilever. We’ve invested heavily behind key areas of our strategy. For example, the move towards a leaner and more category-driven organization has been decisively implemented in just a few months’ time. The fact that we have completed a rapid transition to our new structure so seamlessly is a real testimony to the growing strengths of the organization and a great credit to our people around the world.

Also on the winning-with-people agenda, our cutting-edge leadership development programs have now reached all of our senior management and will be rolled out further in 2012. This is a major investment once more in the future of the business.

Not surprisingly, with the results in these investments, we’re becoming increasingly an employer of choice, reaching the number one fast-moving consumer goods rankings in no fewer than 14 key countries around the world.

Invest in our customer area. We continue to drive the on-shelf availability, the perfect store concept, which is now increasingly being introduced in the modern trade as well, and in our innovation centers. We’re also investing strongly, as I said, in our manufacturing base, ensuring that we have the capacity, especially in the emerging markets, to support the volume growth over the long term that we’re seeing.

Read the rest of this transcript for free on seekingalpha.com