Nestle SA (NSRGY) confirmed its medium-term organic growth target Tuesday and boosted its profit margin aims ahead of the group's investor day in London that is expected to highlight some of the pressure recently applied by activist shareholder Third Point LLC.
Nestle said it sees "mid-single digit organic growth" by 2020 and wants to achieve an operating profit margin of between 17.5% and 18.5% over the same time period, up from the 16% target published last year. The group also said it would "accelerate" a previously-announced share buyback program, worth around Sfr20 billion ($20.65 billion), over the next three years.
"Nestle has a strong foundation, a clear path forward and a bright future. We have a proven track record of delivering sustainable, industry-leading performance," said CEO Mark Schneider. "In line with today's accelerating pace of change, we are intensifying our focus on innovation, operational efficiency, and portfolio management. We will grow by remaining at the forefront of consumer trends and offering the brands and products to meet people's changing needs, especially their demand for a better, healthier life."
Nestle has been under some pressure to follow the path of major brand groups and declare a formal margin target, particularly after Dan Loeb's Third Point hedge fund revealed it had built a 1% stake, worth around $3.5 billion, which would put the group among the ten largest shareholders of the Vevy, Switzerland-based group and said it wants management to pursue a series of options it argues would unlock shareholder value, including the sale of its 23% stake in luxury goods maker L'Oreal SA (LRLCY) .
The L'Oreal stake has suddenly become of great interest to all parties following the death last week of heiress Liliane Bettencourt, by some measures the world's richest woman, whose surviving family controls the cosmetics giant. Schneider has called the $28 billion holding "highly strategic" to Nestle, while Loeb, and others, have said selling it would give the group more cash to build on the group's stated ambitions to develop food and beverages and consumer healthcare.
However, Schneider told investors in London Tuesday that the company's approach to the L'Oreal investment "is currently not changing", even if that statement aligns with the fact that neither Nestle nor L'Oreal can do anything with holding for a least six months, based on previous agreements with the Bettencourt family.
Last month, the group posted weaker-than-expected first half earnings and confirmed its full-year guidance as the world's biggest food company even as sales slipped in the face of currency headwinds.
Nestle said first half net profits rose 19% to Sfr4.9 billion, modestly ahead of analysts' forecasts of Sfr4.83 billion. Sales for the six months ending in June were pegged at Sfr43 billion, the company said, missing the consensus forecast of Sfr43.77 billion and down from Sfr43.155 billion over the same period last year. Organic growth, however, slowed to 2.3% against a consensus forecast of 2.77%, the company reported.
Nestle shares were marked 1.48% lower at Sfr82.30 each by mid-day in Zurich, extending their year-to-date gain past 12%.
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