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New Unilever CEO Inherits Disappointing Sales Performance

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Unilever reported lower-than-expected fourth-quarter sales on Thursday, hurt by troubles in Latin America and weak growth in developed markets, showing the challenges facing new Chief Executive Alan Jope.

The maker of Dove soap and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream said fourth-quarter underlying sales rose 2.9 percent. Analysts, on average, were expecting 3.5 percent, a consensus forecast supplied by the company showed.

Jope, who has been with the company for more than three decades, took charge at the start of the year.

He succeeded Paul Polman, who retired after a decade as CEO during which he drove Unilever toward a vision of a company that valued sustainability as well as profits. The end of his tenure was marred by a dispute with shareholders over a botched attempt to shift the company’s main headquarters to the Netherlands.

Jope appeared focused for the moment on improving business trends at the Anglo-Dutch group, whose sales are at the bottom end of its medium-term targets, due to issues such as hyperinflation in Argentina, intense competition in North America and weak retail environments in France and Germany.

“Let me state … upfront, that accelerating quality growth will be my number one priority,” Jope told analysts.

Unilever shares fell nearly 3 percent as the sales miss overshadowed full-year earnings that were ahead of expectations.

“With growth weak but H2 margins strong, we expect this to fuel the ongoing debate on Unilever’s top line versus bottom line algorithm,” Jefferies analysts said.

CHALLENGING CONDITIONS

Unilever reported full-year sales growth of 3.1 percent, in line with its forecast for growth at the bottom end of its 3 to 5 percent forecast range.

Looking ahead, it said it expects 2019 market conditions to remain challenging and forecast underlying sales growth again in the lower half of a 3 to 5 percent range, with continued improvement in underlying operating margin and another year of strong free cash flow.

For the forecast to come up to the top half of the range, Jope said he would want to see a sustained turnaround in Latin America and continued improvement in Southeast Asia. Noting problems in Argentina and Brazil, he called Latin America the most troubled part of the world.

“Of course we’d prefer the top half of the range, but in the current uncertain market conditions … the lower half is where I expect us to be operating,” Jope said.

He noted also that the boost to sales growth the company had forecast from M&A was being reduced by the poor performance in China of Blueair, a line of air purifiers it bought in 2016. The business doubled in size from the time of acquisition, but has since shrank back down to where it was.

NEW BOSS, SAME TARGETS

Jope has already embraced the 2020 targets Polman set for Unilever in the wake of 2017’s rebuffed $143 billion takeover bid by Kraft Heinz. The target calls for an operating margin of 20 percent.

He said on Thursday that Unilever remained on track for its 2020 goals.

“There’s nothing new about the intention, but so far at least the reality has failed to live up to it,” said analysts at RBC Capital Markets, referring to Jope’s stated focus on accelerating growth.

In the fourth quarter, Unilever blamed Argentina, which makes up 2.5 percent of its overall business, for hyperinflation that led prices to spike more than 50 percent and therefore volume to fall more than 20 percent.

Apple posts revenue drop but optimistic on China

But more broadly, sales volume in the Americas was flat. The same happened in Europe, though the company eked out 0.8 percent sales growth in the region. Overall, underlying sales in developed markets grew only 0.4 percent in the quarter.

The company blamed declines in France and competitive pressures in North America, particular in ice cream and mayonnaise.

For the full year, Unilever reported turnover of 49.6 billion euros ($57.05 billion), excluding its divested spreads business, with underlying sales up 3.1 percent, in line with expectations. Its full-year underlying earnings were 2.36 euros per share, topping analysts’ estimates of 2.31 per share. -Reuters

-Martinne Geller

Current Affairs

Zindzi Mandela passes away, aged 59

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Picture taken for the December 2014 cover of FORBES WOMAN AFRICA by Jay Caboz

Zindziswa ‘Zindzi’ Mandela has died. The 59-year-old is believed to have breathed her last in a Johannesburg hospital in the early hours of July 13, Monday, SABC is reporting.

Zindzi was the daughter of struggle icons, South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and currently serving as South Africa’s ambassador to Denmark.

In December 2014, Zindzi graced the cover of FORBES WOMAN AFRICA alongside her mother, a year after her father’s death.

She lost her 13-year-old granddaughter, Zenani, in a car crash after a pre-tournament concert during the 2010 FIFA World Cup that took place in South Africa.

In 2018, her mother Winnie, passed away.

Zindzi is survived by her four children, husband and grandchildren.

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Heroes & Survivors

The Test, Trial And Triumph

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Motlabana Monnakgotla on an assignment for FORBES AFRICA

After 14 days in isolation as a Covid-19 patient, this FORBES AFRICA photojournalist recovered to see the world with new eyes and realize he had the gift of life.

It was around 3PM on June 24 when a nurse called to tell me that I could now officially end my 14-day self-isolation period at home. I had tested Covid-19 positive three weeks before and now was in total disbelief that I had survived this particular physical trial and mental ordeal.

Before testing positive, I was like any other ordinary South African, pursuing my work from home, and as a FORBES AFRICA photojournalist, recording the impact of the coronavirus.

I had thought my face-mask and hand-sanitizer were my armour against the virus, but I guess one can never be too careful.

The first 72 hours of knowing that I had confirmed positive for Covid-19 came with its own set of emotions and experiences. Some friends, and even family, criticized and judged me for carrying the virus, but I also came to know about the ones who cared.

A group of doctors visited me at home to check if I needed hospitalization. They were young and not cloaked head-to-toe in PPE as I had thought. One of them was wearing a camouflage top and sported a few tattoos on his left arm. After his consultation with me, he spoke excitedly about the baby he and his wife were expecting, due later in the year.

There was hope in the world.

I was confident my health was getting better until a nurse called me a few days later. She was the pin that burst my bubble, as she stated things I didn’t want to hear at the time. They were facts, she clinically warned, as she sees people dying daily of the virus.

My mind raced to the previous two nights, when I experienced mild short breaths and thought how the attack could have been worse. I could have died at night all by myself, just trying to breathe. I shed tears as she spoke.

Soon after that, an old friend of mine, who had been shot (and injured) in the spine during an armed robbery attack, called. His timing was perfect. He encouraged me to live on and smile, and told me that the nurse was only doing her job, in advising me to keep to a healthy diet during this time. He brought a smile to my face.

A week later, it was my mother’s birthday. Every year, I visit her with a gift and a cake. This time, all I could do was video-call her; she was both happy and sad not to be able to see me. Two days later, it was my own birthday. I felt low and lonely, but was glad to be alive as my two weeks in self-quarantine was going to be over soon.

“I asked if I would be added on as a statistic to the official recovery numbers, and she laughed.”

I was reluctant to leave the house, but on June 24, the call by a lady who identified herself as “Nurse Nomsa from the Department of Health” liberated me. She was following up on my health status for the previous two weeks and I had ticked all the right boxes. I asked if I would be added on as a statistic to the official recovery numbers, and she laughed. She told me I had recovered, but should continue maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Today, I can stand outside my home in Soweto and watch the neighbors’ kids play, shout and scream, asking from their yards, “Malume (uncle), are you okay?”

With a gentle laugh and nod, I acknowledge my story of survival to them.

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Current Affairs

Sustainable Development In Africa Can Be Amplified By The Media

The COVID-19 pandemic has struck the world like a bolt of lightning exposing the contours of deep inequalities. Media reports have helped reveal the interwoven threads of inequality and health, with poorer people suffering a strikingly disproportionate share of the fallout from the virus, either through infection or loss of livelihoods.

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In 2018, the United Nations Secretary-General Mr António Guterres, launched an SDG Media Compact to leverage their resources to advance the Sustainable Development Goals. By disseminating facts, human stories and solutions, the Compact is a powerful driver for advocacy, action and accountability on the Sustainable Development Goals. Photo- UN

When 17-year-old high school student Darnella Fraizer filmed the last minutes of George Floyd’s life under the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin, she could not have imagined that her footage would reignite the explosive global question of racial inequality and the subsequent clamour for reforms in policing.

This act of filming validates the force of the media globally, we need a similar drive for urgent action in Africa. We need the continent’s media to help ensure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are achieved and the life of every African afforded the opportunity they deserve.

“Around the world, success in achieving the SDGs will ease global anxieties, provide a better life for women and men and build a firm foundation for stability and peace in all societies, everywhere,” said the UN Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a wave of demonstrations from Lebanon to Chile, from Iran to Liberia, was sweeping across countries. This was a clear sign that, for all our progress, something in our globalized society is broken.

The COVID-19 pandemic has struck the world like a bolt of lightning exposing the contours of deep inequalities. Media reports have helped reveal the interwoven threads of inequality and health, with poorer people suffering a strikingly disproportionate share of the fallout from the virus, either through infection or loss of livelihoods.

The global sweep of protests due to years of disenfranchisement and racism has made it clear that the world must change to offer equal treatment to all people.  

Media can do the same for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Achieving the SDGs, and so improving the lives of millions of Africans, depends heavily on increasing public awareness, and on the focused action and funding that such awareness ignites.

One major shortcoming of development progress is the lack of widespread knowledge about the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. We must look to the media to push the SDG discourse; what is reported and how it is reported helps shape policy and has implications for the millions of people whose lives are affected. Knowledge is power and if citizens are aware of the issues, they are empowered to help determine the national response.

Traditionally, development experts have failed to explain the relatively new concept of sustainable development to influencers such as educators, politicians, and the media. Doing so is key, so that easily understood narratives are developed to raise public support.

We are already a third of the way towards the 2030 Agenda deadline which 193 UN member states committed to. But at the current pace of change – notwithstanding the global pandemic – Africa is likely to miss out on the time-bound targets in key sectors – including health, education, employment, energy, infrastructure, and the environment. 

Improved public awareness of the SDGs themselves, and of the actions needed and the bodies responsible for such actions is essential. By stepping up to address and explain the global quest for social justice and equality which the SDGs represent, the media can help galvanise civil society, business, international bodies, regional organizations, and individuals.

Pressure from an informed public, pushes policymakers into action, offering hope to millions of poor people.

Development is never far from the media agenda in Africa, so the opportunity to build understanding of sustainability is there. Sustainable development experts must explain why the SDGs are important, and why ‘business as usual’ in development is no longer viable in the face of increasing populations and climate change. Then, news outlets, who would then be able to develop compelling narratives to make the concept understandable by all can help raise the SDG profile, thereby raising public support.

We must “flip the orthodoxy”.

What is reported, how it is reported, and on what channels helps in shaping policy and has implications for the millions of people whose lives are affected.

To this end, the media must be brought into the conversation and be made to understand the role they can play towards the greater good.

The SDGs pledge that “no one will be left behind” and to “endeavour to reach the furthest behind first.” In practice, this means taking explicit action to end extreme poverty, curb inequalities, confront discrimination and fast-track progress for the furthest behind.

The media can shine a spotlight on those left behind, for example by using COVID-19 to examine the wider issue of universal health coverage, the subject of SDG 3.

It also plays a critical role in holding governments to account for their Agenda 2030 commitments. Though these commitments demand that countries have clear reporting and accountability mechanisms, most nations still have no reliable data on their progress towards specific goals. This matters because countries can only unlock financing for the SDGs by disaggregating data to understand where resources are required. In Africa, where national commitments are rarely backed by adequate investment, this is particularly important.

Rapid mobile penetration in Africa offers unparalleled opportunities for content sharing on digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Though lack of affordable internet connections and poor connectivity remain a challenge, mobile technology is a powerful enabler across many sectors.

One in every six people on Earth lives in Africa; its problems are the world’s problems and solving them is the world’s responsibility. If Africa fails to achieve Agenda 2030, the implications will be felt across the planet through conflict, migration, population growth and climate catastrophe.

The media in Africa is a stakeholder in the achievements of the SDGs. Let us support the media and enlist their help in the quest for economic, environmental, and social justice across the world.

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. He has served in various parts of the world with UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP, UNOPS, UN Peacekeeping and the Red Cross Movement. A decorated Special Forces veteran, he is an alumnus of Princeton University. Follow him on twitter-@sidchat1

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.​​​​​

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