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What's going on?

Unilever – home to brands like Knorr and Hellmann’s – announced worse-than-expected quarterly earnings on Thursday, and the consumer staple’s stock left a weird aftertaste in investors’ mouths.

What does this mean?

Times have been kinder to Unilever than they have the rest of us: shoppers have been hoarding its everyday essentials, from stock cubes to mayonnaise. But while its underlying sales growth was in line with analysts’ estimates, the company couldn’t hit profit expectations: turns out pandemic-related expenses and a lack of out-of-home business have taken their toll on its bottom line.

That’s not the only thing that’s rubbed investors the wrong way. Unilever had ditched its long-term sales growth target of 3-5% back in the early days of the pandemic, and the company finally had enough confidence to restore that target. But hard-to-please investors had much more ambitious goals in mind, and they sent its shares down by 6% – a big move for a usually stable “defensive stock.

Why should I care?

For markets: Quit it, guys – you’re making Unilever look bad.

One of the reasons expectations were so high was because Unilever’s rivals raised the bar last month. Spirits maker Diageo and consumer goods rival Procter & Gamble both delivered better-than-expected updates, and the latter even upped its forecasts for the rest of the year.

The bigger picture: Unilever is your dad in a backwards cap.

Unilever’s now tweaking its strategy to focus more on fast-growing markets – like plant-based foods and high-end beauty products – and fast-growing regions, like China and India. It’s hoping to boost its sustainability “cred” too, in an effort to make millennials and Gen Z think it’s really “lit”. But investors are skeptical: the company’s long been under pressure to bump up sales growth, and it hasn’t delivered so far…

Originally posted as part of the Finimize daily email.

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