Unilever could review investment if UK exits EU

Anglo-Dutch consumer goods maker Unilever could review its investment in the UK if the country left the EU, The Guardian newspaper reported Unilever chief executive as saying.

Paul Polman, chief executive, Unilever Plc"We are very concerned about the overall competitiveness of Europe vis-a-vis the rest of the world," said Paul Polman, chief executive at the Anglo-Dutch group, in a media statement.

According to commentators it would not be surprising that Unilever, the consumer goods conglomerate that counted Ben & Jerry's and PG Tips tea among its portfolio of brands, was considering where it should plough its future investments following its disappointing 2013 results.

Turnover was down in 2013 after a slowdown in some emerging markets hit sales and developed markets reported weak growth.

More than half of the group's sales come from developing and emerging markets. The company said annual turnover dropped 3 per cent to €49.8 billion, weighed down by foreign exchange rates and divestments.

In a statement yesterday, Unilever said developed markets remained weak with little sign of any overall improvement despite some macro-economic indicators looking up in recent months.

Polman said 2013  provided further evidence of the progress the company was making in transforming Unilever into a sustainable growth company.

Meanwhile, the UK's ruling Conservative party has promised to hold a referendum if re-elected next year, on the country's EU membership, which it said was in need of reform.

The newspaper cited Polman as saying the UK's presence in the EU was good for business and for the British economy.

Polman said he supported EU reforms but that related debate was simplistic, the newspaper reported.

According to Rotterdam and London based Unilever, sales growth in the fourth quarter was helped by Russia, Turkey, China and Indonesia, but consumers in Vietnam, Thailand and South Africa continued to spend less on its products.

On €49.8 billion sales, the company's fourth-quarter profit was up at €4.84 billion, from €4.37 billion in the comparable period a year earlier.

Shares in Unilever were up 3.4 per cent in the New York trading yesterday with some investors welcoming the improvement in the quarter.

Meanwhile, the EU is expected to raise its forecast for economic growth soon. Olli Rehn EU, commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, this month that the economic recovery was moving ahead faster than anticipated.

Growth in emerging markets continued to slow last year and some investors raised concerns that those regions could see tapering of capital flows  with the expected unwinding of central bank stimulus in the US.

The New York Times quoted Polman as saying, looking forward, the company anticipated volatility in the external environment and was positioning Unilever accordingly.