Morocco boycott slows sales growth at Danone

A man shops in a supermarket where Danone yogurts are displayed in Shanghai. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2018
0

Morocco boycott slows sales growth at Danone

  • Seeks to rebuild consumer trust in Morocco
  • Sales growth shows slowdown

PARIS: Slacker demand for baby food in China and a consumer boycott in Morocco slowed third-quarter sales growth at Danone, although the French food group said it was sticking to its earnings growth targets.
Danone said it was banking on cost savings and a push into lucrative, healthy eating trends to meet those goals, despite lower sales of infant formula in China and the broad boycott in Morocco launched earlier this year on social media against what protesters said were unfair prices set by large companies.
Chief Financial Officer Cecile Cabanis cautioned the slowdown in China would last several quarters while the Moroccan boycott would weigh on the second half of the year.
Danone, the world’s largest yoghurt maker with brands including Actimel and Activia, said third-quarter sales reached $7.1 billion, a like-for-like increase of 1.4 percent — slightly above analysts’ forecasts for 1.2 percent growth.
Nevertheless, this marked a slowdown from 3.3 percent growth in the second quarter and 4.9 percent in the first quarter, and Danone shares fell 2.8 percent in early trading.
“The main miss is on Specialized Nutrition where infant milk formula is down 20 percent in China in Q3 ... We were not expecting such a drop” said Oddo analyst Pierre Tegner.
Danone, however, kept its annual financial targets.
Growth had accelerated at its dairy and plant-based business in North America, where Danone is integrating organic food group WhiteWave, and its European dairy division was on the road toward stabilization, it said.
Danone, which is targeting an operating margin above 16 percent and like-for-like sales growth of 4-5 percent by 2020, reiterated its expectation for a double-digit rise in 2018 underlying earnings per share (EPS), excluding the impact of the sale of a stake in Japan’s Yakult.
Sales of Danone’s ‘Early Life Nutrition’ products in China fell 20 percent in the third quarter following a period of strong growth and amid signs of changes in market dynamics.
The sales of the China-focused infant formula products had grown by around 30 percent in the second quarter of 2018 and by over 50 percent in the third-quarter 2017.
In China, where Danone competes in the baby food market with Nestle and Reckitt Benckiser, there has been strong demand for baby formula products thanks to a sharp rise in birth rates tied to the end of China’s one-child policy, and the emergence of new cities and an affluent middle class.
The peak in birth rates, however, happened in 2016 and started slowing down in late 2017, leading Danone to caution that the Chinese market will progressively show more normal trends from the second half of 2018 onwards.
Danone’s indirect E-commerce infant formula sales had also benefited last year from China’s decision to delay regulation of cross-border e-commerce, which led to stocking up by traders.
Cabanis said that although there were fewer births in China, Danone continued to benefit from demand for its ultra-premium infant formula products such as Nutrilon and Aptamil.
Morocco, which counts for 2 percent of group sales, was another weak spot as a result of the consumer boycott.
In September, Danone announced measures in Morocco to regain consumers’ trust, including price cuts, but sales in Morocco were still down 35 percent in the third quarter.


Undersea gas fires Egypt’s regional energy dreams

Updated 18 November 2018
0

Undersea gas fires Egypt’s regional energy dreams

  • In the past year, gas has started flowing from four major fields off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast
  • Gas production has now hit 184 million cubic meters a day

CAIRO: Egypt is looking to use its vast, newly tapped undersea gas reserves to establish itself as a key energy exporter and revive its flagging economy.
Encouraged by the discovery of huge natural gas fields in the Mediterranean, Cairo has in recent months signed gas deals with neighboring Israel as well as Cyprus and Greece.
Former oil minister Osama Kamal said Egypt has a “plan to become a regional energy hub.”
In the past year, gas has started flowing from four major fields off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, including the vast Zohr field, inaugurated with great ceremony by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
Discovered in 2015 by Italian energy giant Eni, Zohr is the biggest gas field so far found in Egyptian waters.
The immediate upshot has been that since September, the Arab world’s most populous country has been able to halt imports of liquified natural gas, which last year cost it some $220 million (190 million euros) per month.
Coming after a financial crisis that pushed Cairo in 2016 to take a $12 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, the gas has been a lifeline.
Egypt’s budget deficit, which hit 10.9 percent of GDP in the financial year 2016-17, has since fallen to 9.8 percent.
Gas production has now hit 184 million cubic meters a day.
Having met its own needs, Cairo is looking to kickstart exports and extend its regional influence.
It has signed deals to import gas from neighboring countries for liquefaction at installations on its Mediterranean coast, ready for re-export to Europe.
In September, Egypt signed a deal with Cyprus to build a pipeline to pump Cypriot gas hundreds of kilometers to Egypt for processing before being exported to Europe.
That came amid tensions between Egypt and Turkey — which has supported the Muslim Brotherhood, seen by Cairo as a terrorist organization, and has troops in breakaway northern Cyprus.
In February, Egypt, the only Arab state apart from Jordan to have a peace deal with Israel, inked an agreement to import gas from the Jewish state’s Tamar and Leviathan reservoirs.
A US-Israeli consortium leading the development of Israel’s offshore gas reserves in September announced it would buy part of a disused pipeline connecting the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon with the northern Sinai peninsula.
That would bypass a land pipeline across the Sinai that was repeatedly targeted by jihadists in 2011 and 2012.
The $15-billion deal will see some 64 billion cubic meters of gas pumped in from the Israeli fields over 10 years.
Independent news website Mada Masr reported that Egypt’s General Intelligence Service is the majority shareholder in East Gas, which will earn the largest part of the profits from the import of Israeli gas and its resale to the Egyptian state.
Kamal said he sees “no problem” in that, adding that the agency has held a majority stake in the firm since 2003.
“That guarantees the protection of Egyptian interests,” he said.
Ezzat Abdel Aziz, former president of the Egyptian Atomic Energy Agency, said the projects were “of vital importance for Egypt” and would have direct returns for the Egyptian economy.
They “confirm the strategic importance of Egypt and allow it to take advantage of its location between producing countries in the east and consuming countries of the West,” he said.
The Egyptian state is also hoping to rake in billions of dollars in revenues from petro-chemicals.
Its regional energy ambitions are “not limited to the natural gas sector, but also involve major projects in the petroleum and petrochemical sectors,” said former oil minister Kamal.
Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek El Molla recently announced a deal to expand the Midor refinery in the Egyptian capital to boost its output by some 60 percent.
On top of that, the new Mostorod refinery in northern Cairo is set to produce 4.4 million tons of petroleum products a year after it comes online by next May, according to Ahmed Heikal, president of Egyptian investment firm Citadel Capital.
That alone will save the state $2 billion a year on petrochemical imports, which last year cost it some $5.2 billion.
Egypt is also investing in a processing plant on the Red Sea that could produce some four million tons of petro-products a year — as well as creating 3,000 jobs in a country where unemployment is rife.