Unilever: underlying sales up 6.6 per cent in first quarter; reported sales fall on euro

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AMSTERDAM – Unilever PLC, the maker of consumer products such as Dove soaps and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, said Thursday that the stronger euro dented its revenues in the first quarter of the year.

In a trading update, the company said sales fell 6.3 per cent to 11.4 billion euros ($15.8 billion). That included a negative 8.9 per cent currency impact as around two-thirds of the company’s sales come from outside the eurozone.

After currency effects and sales are stripped out, Unilever reported underlying growth of 3.6 per cent despite a decline in North America. It noted modest improvements in Europe and a big 6.6 per cent rise in emerging markets.

Chief Executive Paul Polman gave a fairly upbeat appraisal of global economic prospects.

“Emerging markets are currently passing through a period of slower demand and economic volatility,” he said, adding that the company was continuing to invest heavily in them for future growth.

And though Europe remains “sluggish,” he said sales of Unilever’s name brand products did particularly well in Britain and Germany and that “a return to growth in Greece and Spain underlines the improving conditions in southern Europe.”

Unilever’s personal care products such as Vaseline, Dove soaps, Axe deodorants and TRESemmé shampoo continue to be its best-performing business, while its foods arm, with Knorr soups and sauces and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, lagged.

Shares declined 0.7 per cent to 30.48 euros in early Amsterdam trading.

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