Nestle's (NSRGY) - Get NSRGY Report full-year growth of 3.2% reported in its full-year earnings released Thursday disappointed investors and puts the largest food and drinks company's new CEO to the test.
Mark Schneider, who was appointed in June but took the helm in January, had the unfortunate task of downgrading the consumer giant's growth outlook. For 2017, Vevey, Switzerland-based is targeting organic growth of between 2% and 4%, almost halving the long-standing previous target of growth between 5% and 6%, which is known as the "Nestle Model."
This was the fourth straight year that Nestle missed its own growth target, and Schneider wasn't overly optimistic about long-term growth: "Nestle continues to invest in future growth and operating efficiency, targeting mid-single digit organic growth and significant structural cost savings by 2020," he said in a statement.
Investors had been optimistic about Schneider's appointment -- the first outsider to run Nestle since 1922 -- after joining from German health care company Fresenius where he had a strong appetite for M&A.
But the reaction to his first earnings report has been less than spectacular: Nestle shares fell 1.23% in the opening 90 minutes of trading in Zurich to change hands at Sfr72.25 each, trimming the three-month gain to 4.63%.
The company on Thursday said it would make a consider increase in restructuring costs, further details were not given.
"In our view, the market's enthusiasm for Nestle's new CEO, any potential change in strategy and a step-change in M&A is overly optimistic," Liberum analysts said in a note published Thursday. "While there is no denying Nestle's strong brand and category positions, we expect Mr. Schneider will first attack the weakness in the core portfolio. Disposals will likely precede larger acquisitions."
Liberum recently downgraded Nestle to a 'sell' with a price target of Sfr64 each.
Nestle said full year net profit came in at Sfr8.5 billion, missing analysts' estimates of Sfr9.59 billion on sales of just under SFr90 billion. That delivered underlying earnings per share of Sfr3.40 each, up 3.4% from 2016.
The company is under pressure in China, where growth came in at just 2.8%. New regulation in China is impacting the nutrition business and low dairy prices are driving down prices, particularly in the premium segment.
The Americas were particularly strong for Nestle reporting growth of 4.2%, while Nestle waters, whose brands include Poland Spring, recorded the company's biggest growth at 4.5%.
The lack of real growth at the company will surely put pressure on Schneider to deliver.
"Schneider, with the weight of expectation and a consensual long upon him, looks to be shifting the long term algorithm away from top line and towards margin," Jefferies analysts said in a note published on Thursday.