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Unilever on Track for Spurt

PARIS — Dutch-Anglo consumer goods giant Unilever registered net profit of $2.3 billion, up 16 percent at current exchange rates, for 2002 over 2001.<br><br>At constant exchange rates, net profit reached $2.39 billion, up 21 percent in the...

PARIS — Dutch-Anglo consumer goods giant Unilever registered net profit of $2.3 billion, up 16 percent at current exchange rates, for 2002 over 2001.

At constant exchange rates, net profit reached $2.39 billion, up 21 percent in the period.

Sales for 2002 fell 7 percent, to $52.7 billion, year-on-year. At constant exchange, Unilever’s sales for the year were flat.

Dollar figures are converted from the euro at current exchange rates.

Unilever’s operating profit, before exceptional items and amortization of goodwill and intangibles, was flat, at $7.85 billion. At constant exchange rates, it was up 6 percent, to $8.37 billion.

The company said that for this year, growth acceleration is expected, enabling Unilever to be “well on track” to hitting its “Path to Growth” targets, which were unveiled in 2000 and include annual top-line growth of 5 to 6 percent, operating margins of more than 16 percent and low-double-digit earnings per share growth through to 2004.

The company’s personal care division — which includes such brands as Dove, Pond’s and Organics — rang up sales of $13.23 billion in the period, up 8 percent over 2001 at constant exchange rates.

“In home and personal care, we have sustained the leading brand growth well in excess of 6 percent,” said Unilever’s chairmen Niall Fitzgerald and Antony Burgmans in a statement. “In particular, our personal care brands continue to perform well.”

The company said, overall, its leading brands, which represent 89 percent of its overall business, generated sales up 5.4 percent in the year at constant exchange rates.

“Sustained growth in the leading brands, and a healthy expansion of both operating margin and cash flow were the highlights of another successful year,” the company said in the statement.

In the fourth quarter of 2002, Unilever’s sales were up 2 percent, to $14.34 billion, operating profit before exceptional items and amortization of goodwill and intangibles was down 5 percent, to $1.93 billion, and net profit rose by 22 percent, to reach $316 million — all at constant exchange rates.

Unilever stock closed up 2.44 percent, at $8.44, on the London Stock Exchange Thursday.