Nestle confirms outlook as volume growth picks up

The maker of KitKat chocolate bars confirmed on Thursday its target to grow organic sales by 2-4 percent this year and improve its trading operating margin. (Reuters)
Updated 19 April 2018

Nestle confirms outlook as volume growth picks up

  • Nestle expects restructuring costs of around 700 million Swiss francs this year
  • Growth in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa slowed to 2.2 percent, hit by declining prices

ZURICH: Food group Nestle confirmed its full-year guidance after organic sales growth accelerated to 2.8 percent in the first quarter of 2018, helped by improving volumes.
Nestle is among packaged food companies taking action after seeing sales slow as many consumers prefer fresh foods, reacting by cutting costs, divesting underperforming businesses and increasing efforts to innovate with new products.
The maker of KitKat chocolate bars and Maggi soups confirmed on Thursday its target to grow organic sales by 2-4 percent this year and improve its trading operating margin. It also said it was on track to return to mid-single-digit organic sales growth by 2020.
It also confirmed it expected restructuring costs of around 700 million Swiss francs ($723 million) this year.
Quarterly organic growth of 2.8 percent, which strips out currency swings and portfolio changes, was ahead of the average estimate of 2.5 percent in a Reuters poll and up from 1.9 percent in the final quarter of 2017.
Volume growth picked up to 2.6 percent, from 1.2 percent in the final quarter of 2017, but prices rose by only 0.2 percent, Nestle said in a statement. Price pressures were illustrated by a price row with European retailers.
There were also broadly positive reports from other consumer goods companies.
French yogurt maker Danone on Wednesday reported a 4.9 percent rise in first-quarter underlying sales, helped by strong demand for baby formula products in China
Anglo-Dutch Unilever reported first-quarter sales that met expectations, helped by volume gains, and maintained its full-year outlook.
For Nestle, growth in the Americas accelerated to 1.2 percent and Asia (AOA), at 4.7 percent, was also better than the previous quarter, while Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (EMENA) slowed to 2.2 percent, hit by declining prices, Nestle said.
Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Jon Cox said sales figures were better than feared, highlighting the improvement in the US.
“However, we are now in the execution phase of efforts to accelerate sales,” he said. “While there is an improvement, it is clearly going to take time to accelerate sales for a group the size of Nestle.”
Vontobel’s Jean-Philippe Bertschy said deflationary pressures in Brazil and Europe had led to the weak pricing, but the slightly better-than-expected figures should help market sentiment.
Shares in the group, which have lost around 10 percent of their value this year, were indicated to open 1.1 percent higher, according to pre-market indications by bank Julius Baer.
They are trading at around 20 times forward earnings, at a premium to Danone at just under 18 times and in line with Unilever.

Merkel seeks united front with China amid Trump trade fears

Updated 22 May 2018

Merkel seeks united front with China amid Trump trade fears

  • Merkel seeks common ground to ward off trade war
  • Plans complicated by US policy moves

Chancellor Angela Merkel visits China on Thursday, seeking to close ranks with the world’s biggest exporting nation as US President Donald Trump shakes up explosive issues from trade to Iran’s nuclear deal.

Finding a common strategy to ward off a trade war and keep markets open will be Merkel’s priority when she meets with President Xi Jinping, as Washington brandishes the threat of imposing punitive tariffs on aluminum and steel imports.

“Both countries are in agreement that open markets and rules-based world trade are necessary. That’s the main focus of this trip,” Merkel’s spokeswoman Martina Fietz said in Berlin on Friday.

But closing ranks with Beijing against Washington risks being complicated by Saturday’s deal between China and the US to hold off tit-for-tat trade measures.

China’s economic health can only benefit Germany as the Asian giant is a big buyer of Made in Germany. But a deal between the US and China effectively leaves Berlin as the main target of Trump’s campaign against foreign imports that he claims harm US national security.

The US leader had already singled Germany out for criticism, saying it had “taken advantage” of the US by spending less than Washington on NATO.

Underlining what is at stake, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire warned the US-China deal may come “at the expense of Europe if Europe is not capable of showing a firm hand.”

Nevertheless, Merkel can look to her carefully nurtured relationship with China over her 12 years as chancellor.

No Western leader has visited Beijing as often as Merkel, who will be undertaking her eleventh trip to the country.

In China, she is viewed not only as the main point of contact for Europe, but, crucially, also as a reliable interlocutor — an antithesis of the mercurial Trump.

Devoting her weekly podcast to her visit, Merkel stressed that Beijing and Berlin “are both committed to the rules of the WTO” (World Trade Organization) and want to “strengthen multilateralism.”

But she also underlined that she will press home Germany’s longstanding quest for reciprocity in market access as well as the respect of intellectual property.

Ahead of her visit, Beijing fired off a rare salvo of criticism.

China’s envoy to Germany, Shi Mingde, pointed to a “protectionist trend in Germany,” as he complained about toughened rules protecting German companies from foreign takeovers.

Only 0.3 percent of foreign investors in Germany stem from China while German firms have put in €80 billion in the Asian giant over the last three decades, he told Stuttgarter Nachrichten.

“Economic exchange cannot work as a one-way street,” he warned.

Meanwhile, looming over the battle on the trade front is another equally thorny issue — the historic Iran nuclear deal, which risks falling apart after Trump pulled the US out.

Tehran has demanded that Europe keeps the deal going by continuing economic cooperation, but the US has warned European firms of sanctions if they fail to pull out of Iran.

Merkel “hopes that China can help save the atomic deal that the US has unilaterally ditched,” said Die Welt daily.

“Because only the giant emerging economy can buy enough raw materials from Iran to give the Mullah regime an incentive to at least officially continue to not build a nuclear weapon.”