Unilever plc (UL) - Get Report shares were a rare gainer in European markets Monday after a research note argued that the aborted Kraft Heinz Co. (KHC) - Get Report bid for the consumer brands giant has created a sense of "urgency" in boosting investor returns.
Analysts at Liberum said the company's promise of a strategic review of its business in the wake of its rejection of the Kraft bid could "unlock value via a plan to dispose selected assets and return cash to shareholders via a buyback", in a note published Monday.
"Kraft Heinz' aborted bid created a sense of urgency at Unilever that we felt was lacking previously," Liberum said in the note, which lifted its rating to 'hold' with a price target of €45 each. "While more aggressive EPS growth underpins the shares, failure to deliver on lifted expectations could lead to a pull-back."
Unilever shares were marked 0.26% higher in Amsterdam at €46.72 each against a broader 0.72% decline for the AMX benchmark. The stock has risen around 18% since speculation of a takeover bid first surfaced in mid-February.
The Anglo-Dutch maker of Dove soap and Ben & Jerry's ice cream said on Feb 22 that it would conduct a "comprehensive review of options available to accelerate delivery of value for the benefit of our shareholders" after it rejected a a blockbuster $143 billion offer from Kraft Heinz, an approach the group said "highlighted the need to capture more quickly the value we see in Unilever. We expect the review to be completed by early April, after which we will communicate further."
In a separate statement, issued shortly after the review announcement, Unilever said it expects its core operating margins, a measure of profitability from sales, to improve to "the upper end of its 40-80 basis points guidance."
Unilever's overall core operating margin was 15.3% last year, according the company's latest earnings statement, an improvement of 50 basis points from 2015. Its European operations had the highest margins, at 17.1%, while its Americas division had the lowest, at 14.6%.