Consumers are more likely to be taking to the bottle this year than snacking on chocolate, pizza and noodles, outlooks from Pernod Ricard and Nestlé suggest.
Pernod Ricard, the second-biggest distiller by sales, is forecasting organic growth of 8 per cent in profit from recurring operations based on recovering US consumer sentiment and improving macroeconomics. “We consider there is far less uncertainty today than there was six months ago,” said Pierre Pringuet, chief executive, after unveiling interim figures yesterday.
Nestlé, the world’s top-selling food company, was more cautious, albeit remaining firmly in growth mode. It stuck by its usual forecast of 5-6 per cent improvement in organic sales growth as well as improved margin when it reported full-year results on Thursday. “In view of continuing economic uncertainties and volatility, we don’t expect 2012 to be any easier than previous years,” said Paul Bulcke, chief executive.
Part of the divergence in views stems from the US, where a run of stronger economic data are feeding through into increased spending, as witnessed by Nestlé in its full-year results and Pernod in the six months to end-December. However, the maker of Chivas whiskey and Absolut vodka has further benefited from Americans’ drift to spirits over beer.
Emerging markets – the biggest engine for growth across the sector – also play more into the hands of spirits producers. Drinkers in general are shifting out of local spirits into international ones, while wealthier consumers are moving to pricier premium whiskies and cognacs, delivering a “double-whammy” benefit, analysts say.
The two sets of numbers “largely reflect the differences in the industries at the moment,” said Jamie Isenwater, analyst at Deutsche Bank. “This year, the spirits industry is the most attractive part of the consumer staples universe.”
Pernod Ricard and its bigger rival Diageo, which reported results last week, increased organic emerging market sales 18 per cent at the halfway stage; Nestlé’s were up 13.3 per cent for the full year. Danone, the Swiss group’s French rival, earlier this week lowered its targets for sales and operating profit margins.
Nestlé further demonstrated its record for consistency by delivering organic sales growth of 7.5 per cent last year, trumping market expectations.
Jim Singh, chief financial officer, said the buoyant fourth quarter reflected strong pricing as well as a pick-up in growth in North America, where pet care and bottled water sales did particularly well.
Mr Singh joined Danone in refusing to comment on reports of a bid for the unit of Pfizer that makes formula milk for babies, amid speculation that it could be sold for as much as $10bn.
The strength of the Swiss franc and the sale of its Alcon eyecare arm meant that Nestlé’s overall sales fell 10 per cent to SFr83.6bn ($90bn) in 2011 in spite of the underlying gain.
Net profit was SFr9.5bn, down from SFr34.2bn in 2010, when the figure had been swelled by proceeds from the Alcon disposal. Stripping out discontinued operations, net profit rose 8 per cent.
At Pernod Ricard, organic growth in sales rose 11 per cent to €4.6bn, boosted by about 3 percentage points by the timing of Chinese new year and advance French sales ahead of an excise increase in spirits. Profit from recurring operations rose 14 per cent to €1.2bn.
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