Unilever plc (UL) Q4 2011 Earnings Call February 02, 2012 3:30 am ET Executives James Allison - Paul Polman - Chief Executive Officer and Director Raoul Jean-Marc Sidney Huet - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Director Analysts Robert Waldschmidt - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division Michael Steib - Morgan Stanley, Research Division David Hayes - Nomura Securities Co. Ltd., Research Division Jeremy Fialko - Redburn Partners LLP, Research Division Harold Thompson - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division Xavier Croquez - CA Cheuvreux, Research Division Unknown Analyst Marco Gulpers - ING Groep N.V., Research Division Presentation James Allison
As usual, I draw your attention to the disclaimer relating to forward-looking statements and non-GAAP measures. And with that, let me hand you over to Paul for his opening remarks.Paul Polman Good morning, everybody. I'm actually pleased to see this photo here of this mood-enhancing Magnum, one of the great innovations that we have, and we certainly need a lot of those in Europe these days. So I hope that gets reflected in our sales numbers. Anyway, glad to see so many familiar faces in the audience, and thank you for joining us today again, as well as for -- welcome to those that are listening to us around the world. This year just ended, and it certainly has been a challenging year. It's probably one of the most challenging that I can remember in my career in fast-moving consumer goods. The global economy is not in the best shape ever, and I fully agree with the views that were expressed last week, when I was in Davos, by Christine Lagarde, who said the world economy is deeply in the danger zone. In 2011, we had some major hurdles to overcome. Consumer demand across Europe and North America was sluggish at best. And even in the fast-growing emerging markets, we've seen some signs of softening, as I had pointed out to you before. Inflationary pressures were high, almost as high as in 2008, and at a level not experienced by many of our major peers. And on top of this, we had to contend with a series of natural disasters and geopolitical disruptions that you're well familiar with in many parts of the world. Against that background, I'm actually pleased that our performance has been robust. We are growing again ahead of our markets, gaining share overall and maintaining reasonable volume growth, despite having taken significant pricing, quite different than what we saw in 2008. And we're doing this whilst defending our profitability and strongly investing in our brands and the future of this great company. So the results for the year are good, particularly given the environment, but more importantly is the fact that we're taking the right actions for the long-term, implementing our strategy with speed and discipline. And as a result, we are now building sustainable growth models for our business.
Now let me begin with some brief highlights of the year's results. Our focus on innovation and discipline is starting to pay out. Underlying sales growth was once again ahead of the market and accelerated in the year to reach 6.5% and double digit as you've seen in the emerging markets.We're also increasingly seeing the benefits of making clearer choices. Good strategies are about clear choices. Growth was especially strong in the emerging markets, as I said, 11.5% for the year as a whole, with a very encouraging 4% volume growth. This growth is ahead of the market and consistently so both over time and across the wide range of emerging market geographies in which we compete. Pricing and volume also once more are ahead of our competitive set, as you could see as well. And Personal Care is now 1/3 of our total business, and it continues to accelerate. Full year underlying sales growth for that business was 8.2%, with more than half of it coming from volume. So our overall top line performance has been strong, and our market shares reflect this, with gains in our global value shares both for the last 12 weeks and for the year as a whole. Now we did set out to achieve modest margin expansion in 2011, in line with our delivery in the last 2 years. We came close but did not quite achieve this. And that, as you know, for someone who likes to achieve, like myself, this is a disappointment. But I think it also will be fair that we put a little perspective here in light of what our competitors are showing, you see that. But more importantly, the 10 basis points decrease in operating margin, we're talking about EUR 50 million. We could have found that very easily. This was despite significant one-offs that I talked about, mainly related to these political uprisings and natural disasters and our mix not quite working for us yet, as we talked in Istanbul. But more importantly, we are comfortable with that because we invested for the future, in the long-term future of this business, rather than striving to only hit cosmetically some short-term targets.
As a result, we've actually grown strongly, added more than EUR 2.2 billion in turnover, gained market share, strengthened our brands with more investments. Again, we invested in advertising and promotion, as you see, which is now over EUR 6 billion for the company, and built capabilities in many areas: leadership of the organization, our investments in 25 factories and the list goes on. That's an investment just in capital of EUR 2 billion for the future of this company.Now this is performance which demonstrates that we're building the new Unilever for the long term and that we are getting closer to a stronger and more competitive business than you've ever seen in the past. I certainly would like to thank the organization for having gone the extra mile in these very difficult environments. So let me explain to you what is helping us to build this new Unilever. We've invested heavily behind key areas of our strategy. For example, the move towards a leaner and more category-driven organization has been decisively implemented in just a few months' time. The fact that we have completed the rapid transition to our new structure so seamlessly is a real testimony to the growing strength of the organization and a great credit to our people around the world. Also on the winning with people agenda, our cutting-edge leadership development programs have now reached all of our senior management and will be rolled out further in 2012. This is a major investment once more in the future of the business. Not surprisingly, with the results in these investments, we're becoming increasingly an employer of choice, reaching the #1 fast-moving consumer goods rankings in no fewer than 14 key countries around the world. Read the rest of this transcript for free on seekingalpha.com