Adjusted gross margin for the fourth quarter and full year increased 80 basis points and 220 basis points, respectively, slightly lower than expectations. In the fourth quarter, lower commodity costs and supply chain productivity contributed to gross margin expansion. The gross margin expansion was less than our earlier estimates as greater than expected fourth quarter volume required purchases at higher prices and year-end inventory valuations generated higher costs than anticipated.
Selling, marketing and administrative (SM&A) expenses, excluding advertising, increased 10 percent in the fourth quarter, driven by planned investments in global go-to-market capabilities, selling and marketing costs, and other employee-related expenses. As a result, adjusted EBIT for the fourth quarter increased 15.3 percent generating adjusted EBIT margin of 16.3 percent, a 50 basis point increase versus last year. For the fourth quarter and full year, advertising increased 20 percent and 21 percent, respectively, supporting new product launches as well as core brands in the U.S. and international markets. Additionally, as previously communicated, the tax rate in the fourth quarter of 34.2 percent was greater than the year ago period resulting in a full-year tax rate of 34.3 percent, in line with our estimate.
The Company expects 2014 net sales growth of 5 to 7 percent, including the impact of foreign currency exchange rates. Net sales will be driven primarily by core brand volume growth as well as innovation such as York Minis, Hershey’s Spreads, Lancaster Soft Crèmes Caramels and Brookside Crunchy Clusters in the U.S., Hershey’s Kisses Deluxe in China and the continued rollout of our five global brands in key international markets.As stated in October, gross margin is expected to increase in 2014, driven by productivity and cost savings initiatives. Therefore, the Company expects 2014 adjusted gross margin expansion of around 50 basis points. Advertising and related consumer marketing is expected to increase mid to high single-digits, on a percentage basis versus last year. SM&A expenses, excluding advertising and related consumer marketing, will increase in 2014 building on the investments in go-to-market capabilities established over the last few years, as well as consumer knowledge-based projects related to our Insights Driven Performance initiative. As a result, the Company anticipates adjusted earnings per share-diluted growth for the full year to be in the 9 to 11 percent range. The aforementioned outlook excludes estimated operating results for Shanghai Golden Monkey. Completion of the agreement is expected to occur in the second quarter of 2014, subject to necessary government and regulatory approvals and satisfaction of other conditions. Upon completion, and excluding integration and transition costs, the Company expects the acquisition to be slightly accretive on an adjusted basis in 2014. “Our business continues to respond to the investments we have made, as evidenced by our retail takeaway and market share gains, and we expect our momentum to continue in 2014,” stated Bilbrey. “Core brands, as well as our solid pipeline of new products, will be supported by advertising, merchandising and programming that is expected to continue to drive net sales and earnings growth. We’re focused on executing against our annual plan and believe that our agreement with Shanghai Golden Monkey, and the confectionery plant under construction in Malaysia, will enable us to achieve the goals outlined in our strategic plan, in a disciplined way,” Bilbrey concluded.
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