Unilever headquartersUnilever headquarters, Rotterdam, Netherlands - 17 Jul 2018

LONDON — A sales warning just two weeks before the end of the financial year sent Unilever shares down 5.2 percent to 43.89 pounds in midmorning trading on Tuesday.

Unilever, parent of brands including Dove, Vaseline and Pond’s, said it expects underlying sales growth for 2019 to be slightly below the lower half of its 3 to 5 percent, multiyear forecast.

The company said the shortfall is a result of challenges in the fourth quarter in some markets, including the economic slowdown in South Asia, one of Unilever’s largest markets, and difficult trading conditions in West Africa.

Analysts jumped on the news.

Pierre Tegner, of Oddo BHF, described the fall in the share price as big, and “a very negative message from investors,” as earnings per share will most likely fall as a result. He also pointed out that, given the warning, sales growth in the fourth quarter should be around 2 percent. For the full year ended Dec. 31, he’s estimating 2.9 percent growth.

“That’s a strong deceleration and far below consensus expectations, which was 3.9 percent before the publication of the third-quarter results,” Tegner said, adding the decision to alert investors on Dec. 17 caused further damage. “A warning is never a good news, but 13 days before the end of the year, the timing will not be welcomed by the investors.”

The trading environment in developed markets continues to be challenging, and while there are early signs of improving performance in North America, a full recovery there will take time, Unilever said.

Earnings, margins and cash are not expected to be impacted.

Alan Jope, chief executive officer, said due to challenges in certain markets, “we expect a slight miss to our full-year underlying sales growth delivery.”

In 2020, he added, growth will come primarily in the second half.

“While we expect improvement in H1 2020 versus this quarter, we expect that first-half growth will be below 3 percent. Our full-year underlying sales growth is expected to be in the lower half of the multiyear range.”

Jope said growth remains the company’s top priority “and we are confident we have the right strategy and investment in place to step up our performance.”

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