By  on February 4, 2010

LONDON — Unilever said its fourth-quarter profits dropped 24 percent to 906 million euros, or $1.34 billion, as sales in the three months to Dec. 31 decreased 5 percent to 9.66 billion euros, or $14.27 billion. At constant exchange rates, revenues grew 1 percent.

For the full year, Unilever’s profits fell 31 percent to 3.66 billion euros, or $5.1 billion, and sales dipped 2 percent to 39.82 billion euros, or $55.54 billion.

Dollar figures are converted at average exchange rates for the period.

Underlying revenue growth, which excludes the effects of acquisitions and disposals and is calculated at average exchange, came in at 1.8 percent in the quarter and 3.5 percent in the full year, while volume growth came in at 5 percent in the quarter and 2.3 percent for 2009. The company said it increased its advertising and promotional spend substantially in the second half, with media impressions for the year increasing by more than 15 percent. Unilever also increased its digital media spend.

Unilever’s personal care division, which includes brands such as Dove and Sunsilk, generated fourth-quarter sales of 3.01 billion euros, or $4.45 billion, up 6.5 percent on-year. For 2009, the division’s revenues grew 5.3 percent to 11.85 billion euros, or $16.52 billion.

By region, underlying sales for the whole company in the fourth quarter grew 7.4 percent in Asia, Africa and Central and Eastern Europe to 3.66 billion euros, or $5.4 billion; 1.2 percent in the Americas to 3.14 billion euros, or $4.64 billion, and decreased 4.2 percent in Western Europe to 2.86 billion euros, or $4.22 billion. In 2009, revenues by region grew 7.7 percent, 4.2 percent and decreased 1.9 percent, respectively.

During a conference call with analysts Thursday, Paul Polman, Unilever’s chief executive officer, outlined opportunities in developing and emerging markets, including alterations in demographic trends. He said, for instance, 1 billion more consumers will be able to afford to purchase Unilever goods in the next decade.

“[Developing and emerging] markets, which account for about half of Unilever’s turnover, have been more robust than many had feared,” he said.

Unilever highlighted Axe Hair, which generated sales of 50 million euros, or $68.7 million, in North America in the 12 months following its introduction, and Dove For Men + Care as being among strong recent launches.

“I see 2009 as the first step towards consistent, long-term, top- and bottom-line growth,” said Polman. “We refocused the organization on volume growth, operating margin and cash flow.”

Polman, who said he expects to face a competitive environment going forward, added Unilever will have similar priorities for 2010, namely driving volume growth while delivering improving underlying operating margin and cash flow.

“I fully expect that the environment in 2010 will be just as tough as 2009, and we are prepared for that,” said Polman.

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