The down-turn in the economy and harsh operating environment are commonly blamed as being responsible for the poor performance of businesses in the country. This cuts across different sectors of the economy.
However, for Unilever Nigeria Plc, the story is slightly different and indeed compounded by poor leadership and the huge amount of capital spent on servicing bank loans, which have been identified as the cause of the successive unimpressive performance.
Analysts opined that the change in the leadership of the conglomerate which saw Mr. Yaw Nsarkoh becoming its Managing Director in January 2014 is having adverse impact on its performance. Although when he took over from Mr. Thabo Mabe, the company claimed he was chosen as its helmsman based on his track record, having “contributed immensely to the growth of Unilever businesses in Ghana, South Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe in his over 20 years career in Unilever.”
But the turn of events in the company presently reveals otherwise as its half year 2015 financial result showed that its Profit After Tax (PAT) nose-dived by a whopping 94 per cent to N85.57 million from N1.47 billion during the corresponding period the previous year.
Investors had expected that increase of Unilever L.G’s (the parent company of Unilever Nigeria) stake in its Nigerian unit to 75 per cent from 50.1 per cent by injecting N42.871 billion, would improve the fortune of the company.
But this seemed not to be so. Unilever L.G. had in April acquired 942,215,930 shares in company at N45.50 per share.
Unilever Nigeria’s stock traded at N46.50 per share at the Nigerian stock Exchange at the close of trading on Thursday last week, implying that Unilever L.G. has gained N1 on each of the shares it bought five months ago. Although its’ shares has appreciated 32.7 per cent after closing the year at N34, indicating that it has not fared badly.
Recall that Unilever Nigeria stock peaked at N68 in May 2013, although that year its PAT declined by 14 per cent.
Also worrisome is the rate at which Unilever’s financial charges has ballooned by 137 per cent to N1.61 billion from N677.9 billion in H1 2014, pointing to a huge debt profile in the company.
Consequently, the firm’s basic earnings per share have dipped by a monstrous 94 per cent to 0.02 per cent from 0.39 per cent in H1 2014, meaning that investors are getting little or nothing from their investment in Unilever.
The company’s woes did not start this year, its 2014 pretax profit fell 57.7 per cent to N2.87 billion from N6.91billion in 2013.
It also went down by 16 per cent in the previous year. The company’s investors have lost hope of getting any returns from their investment in this financial year.
Olorogun Godwin Anono, chairman, Nigeria Association of Professional Shareholders, who is a Unilever Nigeria shareholder told Business Hallmark that they are not expecting any returns on investment, because the financial result of the company has been unimpressive.
He added that investors have completely lost faith in the Exchange, which has seen the market capitalization continue to slip.
Mr. Isaac Akinmusere, executive consultant, Olusola Adekanola & Co, said the company was performing relatively well before the change of its former Managing Director, Mr. Thabo Mabe in 2014, noting that this reflected on its share price reaching its peak of N68 in 2013.
According to him, the present declining fortunes of the conglomerate indicates that his successor, Mr. Nsarkoh has not really found his footings in Nigeria.
He added that the downturn in global economy, which is having adverse effect on the Nigerian economy, has also dampened the fortunes of a lot of companies in the country and Unilever was not an exception.
However, Mr. Soromidayo George, Director, Corporate Affairs, Unilever told Business Hallmark that the problem was not peculiar to Unilever, but a general economic trend in the country..
“Decline in performance is largely a reflection of shrinking disposable income triggered by increasingly tough economic environment. The leadership of Unilever Nigeria is relentless and putting all its energy behind all the right actions to drive greater focus on the consumer and internal efficiency initiatives to secure business sustainability and growth,” George said.
The company has been battling with harsh operating environment, worsened by the poor state of infrastructure in the country, especially erratic power supply.
This has made it to shut down some of its production lines and now import affected products from its sister companies in Ghana and South Africa.
Also, competition from imported products has made some of its products like Omo Detergent, Close-up Toothpaste, Pepsodent Toothpaste, Lifebouy soup etc to lose a large chunk of their market share.