Unilever warns of 'challenging' 2019

The Hague (AFP) –


The new chief executive of Anglo-Dutch consumer giant Unilever warned Thursday of a "challenging" year ahead despite big profits driven by ice-cream sales in 2018.

The comments by Alan Jope, who took over as head of the maker of Dove Soap, Magnum ice cream and Marmite spread in November, came as earnings disappointed analysts and shares dropped.

Former CEO Paul Polman stepped down following a failed post-Brexit plan to move the firm's headquarters from London to the Netherlands after Brexit.

"In 2019 we expect market conditions to remain challenging," the Scotsman said in a statement, adding that sales growth was expected to be "in the lower half" of the group's 3 to 5 percent range for coming years.

Unilever reported net profit of 9.8 billion euros ($11.2 billion) for 2018, up 51.2 percent, but a 5.1 percent decrease in turnover to 51 billion euros.

Analysts had expected better sales figures and Unilever shares were down 1.85 percent to 46.48 euros near the close of trade on Thursday.

Unilever blamed the drop on exchange rates, particularly in the latter half of the year, and the disposal of its large spreads business in July.

However the group behind brands also including Ben and Jerry's said ice cream sales were helped by a heatwave in Europe in the summer of 2018.

Unilever has had a troubled year with the collapse of the plan to move its HQ to Rotterdam, after a revolt by shareholders.

Polman resigned a few months afterwards and was replaced by Jope.