Nestlé (NSRGF) (NSRGY) - Get Report on Thursday said it will not renew its shareholder agreement with the Bettencourt family over their mutual ownership of cosmetics giant L'Oreal, when the deal expires on March 21 and vowed not to increase its 23% stake in L'Oreal. (LRLCF) (LRLCY)
The decision also leaves the way open for Nestle to reduce its stake in the French business. The Nespresso-owner has been under pressure from activist Dan Loeb to consider selling the L'Oreal stake
The Swiss food company also said it will explore options including a sale of its Gerber Life Insurance business, which was part of the Gerber package it bought from pharma company Novartis in 2007, but said it has no plans to sell the Gerber baby food business.
The commitments came as Nestlé announced full year organic earnings growth of 2.4%, which it said was within the guided range but below expectations, in particular because of weak sales towards the end of the year.
"Sales growth in Europe and Asia was encouraging while North America and Brazil continued to see a challenging environment," said Nestle CEO Mark Schneider, in a statement.
He added: "Organic sales growth is expected to improve in 2018 and we are firmly on track for our 2020 margin improvement target." The company is aiming for 2 % to 4% growth this year.
Underlying trading operating profit increased by 2.9% to Sfr 14.7 billion.
Net divestments reduced sales by 1.9%, largely related to the creation of the Froneri ice-cream joint venture, with the U.K.'s R&R Ice Cream, which completed in the final quarter of 2016. Foreign exchange had a minimal negative impact of 0.1%. Total reported sales were Sfr 89.8 billion ($96.9 billion), a 0.4% increase for the year.
As a result of the United States Tax Reform, Nestlé said it expecta a reduction in its United States corporate tax expenses of around Sfr300 million per year, as from January 2018. This equates to a reduction of the Group underlying tax rate of around 200 basis points from 2018 onwards, assuming no other changes. In addition, the tax rate reduction triggered a one-time deferred tax gain in 2017 of around Sfr850 million.
Nestle proposed a dividend increase of Sfr0.05 or 2.2% to Sfr2.35 per share.