Steady growth in earnings and dividends has been the story for many years at Unilever (LSE: ULVR) (NYSE: UL.US), the owner of the iconic Dove, Hellmanns, Lipton and Sunlight brands, amongst hundreds of others worldwide.
Earnings growth looks set to slip for the year to December 2014 with a 2% fall to 128p per share on the cards, but a lot of that will be due to the strength of Sterling over the past 12 months as Unilevers international revenues are largely tied to the US dollar.
Return to growth
But right now, analysts are forecasting a return to EPS growth for 2015, with an 8% rise to 138p penciled in. And the companys third-quarter trading statement released in October suggested that underlying growth is still there.
Underlying sales figures showed a rise of 3.2% overall, with emerging markets (in many of which Unilever has a leading presence) up 6.2%.
Reported turnover actually fell 4.3% to 36.3 billion, but there was a negative impact of 6.6% there from unfavourable currency movements over the nine-month period.
Chief executive Paul Polman did highlight ongoing tough economic conditions, with growth slipping a little in China due to that countrys long-predicted slowdown. But things in North America are apparently getting better, and Mr Polman told us that the board is confident that Unilever will achieve another year of profitable volume growth ahead of our markets, steady and sustainable core operating margin improvement and strong cash flow.
Is it worth buying Unilever at current share price levels of around 2,630p?
I know shares in reliable companies like this can justifiably command valuations ahead of market averages, but a forward P/E of over 20 for Unilever seems a little high to me, especially as 2015s forecast growth would take that down only as far as 19. For that kind of valuation Id really want to see better dividend yields than Unilevers, and right now were looking at only around 3.5%.
Too expensive now?
Brokers are split in their recommendations, with a slight weighting to the Sell side, so maybe the shares are a little high right now. Then again, Ive felt Unilever was a bit too expensive for a few years now and the price has beaten the FTSE 100 over the past 12 months and is up nearly 50% over five years.
And investing in steadily-growing companies like Unilever has made it possible for many an investor to achieve millionaire status — and you can do it too.
Don’t believe me? The Motley Fool’s 10 Steps To Making A Million In The Market shows how a simple strategy followed over the long term can turn modest regular investing into a very significant cash pile. And it’s FREE.
But make haste, as it won’t be available for ever. Just click here for your personal copy today.
Alan Oscroft has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of Unilever. We Fools don’t all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.