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Charges Drag Unilever To $367.1M Loss in Qtr.

NEW YORK — While announcing changes to its corporate leadership structure, including the end of its dual role chief executive officer-chairman position, Unilever plc reported a fourth-quarter loss partially due to increasingly competitive market...

NEW YORK — While announcing changes to its corporate leadership structure, including the end of its dual role chief executive officer-chairman position, Unilever plc reported a fourth-quarter loss partially due to increasingly competitive market conditions.

The Anglo-Dutch, food-to-fragrances company posted a net loss of 283 million euros, or $367.1 million, in the quarter, from a profit a 733 million euros, or $950.8 million, in the year-earlier period. Results include restructuring charges of 597 million euros, or $774.4 million, and a 650 million euros, or $843.2 million, charge related to a goodwill impairment from its Slim-Fast business, of which the company said turnaround efforts are proceeding well, although taking longer than expected.

Carving out the items, Unilever would have earned 1.02 billion euros, or $1.27 billion, down 1.4 percent from the prior period. Results have been calculated at constant exchange rate. Dollar amounts are at the average exchange rate.

Quarterly sales totaled 10.8 billion euros, or $14 billion, up 0.6 percent year over year. Home and personal care sales rose 1.8 percent to 4.8 billion euros, or $6.22 billion.

Looking to 2005, the company said it will focus on growing revenues and tweaking brands to connect better with customers. The company expects ongoing restructuring costs to represent 0.5 percent to 1 percent of sales.

In a separate news release, Unilever disclosed that the current chairman of Unilever NV, Antony Burgmans, will become nonexecutive chairman, responsible for managing the board of directors of both Unilever NV and Unilever plc. Meanwhile, Patrick Cescau, currently chairman of Unilever plc will become group chief executive, responsible for all operations. All changes will become effective in April.

“We have recognized the need for greater clarity of leadership and we are moving to a simpler leadership structure that will provide a sharper operational focus,” Burgmans said in the statement.

For the year, Unilever’s profit fell 31.2 percent to 1.9 billion euros, or $2.4 billion. Stripping out extra items, earnings would have been 4.09 billion euros, or $5.09 billion, up 4.3 percent from the prior period.

Sales in the year fell 2.1 percent to 42 billion euros, or $52.24 billion.