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Unilever NV (UN)

Q2 2012 Earnings Call

July 26, 2012 3:00 am ET


Paulus Gerardus Josephus Maria Polman - Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director

Raoul Jean-Marc Sidney Huet - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Director


Celine AH Pannuti - JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division

Marco Gulpers - ING Groep N.V., Research Division

Harold Thompson - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division

Robert Waldschmidt - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

Martin John Deboo - Investec Securities (UK), Research Division

Jeremy Fialko - Redburn Partners LLP, Research Division


Paulus Gerardus Josephus Maria Polman

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Well hello, everybody, and welcome to Unilever's Second Quarter and Half Year Results Presentation, being presented to you on the eve of the London 2012 Olympics. It's actually a great time to be in Sunny [ph] London, and with [ph] everybody well in what promises to be a really exciting period for the city and, hopefully, for the country as well.

With all the noise around the global economic and political situation, I believe it's important not to lose sight of the essential principles that underpin the Olympic Games, which is actually to unite the peoples of the world through fierce but friendly competition may [ph] it long last. Today, we will keep it brief so that we can get to the questions and the discussions, which I know you most of you value most.

But let me start with the usual disclaimer relating to the forward-looking statements and the non-GAAP measures. Now before we talk about the results, let's briefly remind ourselves of the wider [ph] context in which we operate. A further deterioration of the macroeconomic climate, increased volatility in commodities and currencies that frankly doesn't seem to get less. And last but not least, the competitive environment that remains challenging despite all the noises out there to the contrary sometimes.

Now increasingly, the continued high level of economic and political uncertainty further fuels an already concerning macroeconomic picture. It's fair to say that following the 2008 crisis, unprecedented policy support had not resulted in the desired levels of growth, and the enormous de-leveraging we've been always talking about, and we see now happening especially in the developed world, is starting to dampen market growth and consumption.

In the emerging markets, growth rates are slowing as well. In China you've seen it go down from about 10% to 7.5%. Brazil, always running around the 6%, 7%, now 1%. India dropping from the 7%, 8% to 5%. And currencies are weakening as well. That adds to the inflationary pressures and squeezing consumer disposable incomes. Take for example, the Brazilian real, depreciated 15% against the euro, more against the dollar, between middle 2011 and mid 2012. And I think I keep the same for the Indian rupee and some other things. The developed markets are likely to remain difficult as well with unemployment further increasing and consumer confidence decreasing as austerity measures are starting to bite.

At best, we can hope for the status quo to persist but we need to prepare, as usual, for the worst. In the U.S., for example, retail sales have now fallen for 3 consecutive months which was last seen in 2008. The situation in Europe is well known to all of us, so no point rehashing it here. Better to confront the realities and to deal with it, and that's the position we've always taken.

I've spoken before about scale of use and employment in parts of southern Europe and the potential consequences from a lack of social cohesion. That Europe's difficulties are not anymore confined to the south. 2012 growth prospects here in the U.K., for example, have been slashed again, this time from 0.8% to 0.2%. A year ago just to remind ourselves, the IMF had still forecasted 2.3% and the numbers that I just saw this morning coming out for the second quarter are actually a negative, minus 0.7%.

We also see no signs of reduced competition. Price and promotional activities continue to be hefty in some markets, as well as in some categories, despite the rhetoric of some to the contrary. What is actually happening in the markets will continue to be the key driver for our decision-making.

Finally, we expect increased volatility in commodity costs behind structurally underlying changes such as the population growth and the increasingly weather-related events. Take for example, crude oil, which traded at around $120 per barrel through March and April, then hit $90 a barrel end of June, and now is again $105 and rising. Oil in the U.S., the severe droughts in large parts of the country already leading to sharp inflated prices for soybean, corn and wheat prices.

Yet despite all of these, as the results show, we, Unilever, are increasingly able to weather all these storms and deliver the consistent results most of you are getting accustomed to from this company. Although I fully realize that it is hard to move the few remaining glass is half empty kites [ph] out there in this climate we'll continue to work on it.

We continue to drive and be driven by an opportunity mindset, not a scarcity one. The population will grow from 7 billion to 9 billion. In fact, every year 150 million people are entering the middle classes every year and global income per capita over the next 15 to 20 years is expected to more than double.

As the emerging markets consumer goods company, our expanding footprint there is increasingly a source of competitive advantage. Our brands and our organizations are getting stronger as well, and our strategy is delivered each time with more and more discipline.

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