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27-07-2012 15:08:00

UPDATE: Danone Fears Further Downturn

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-- Danone posts weakest quarterly sales growth in dairy products since 2009

-- Reports a modest rise in first-half profit

-- Sales rise moderately as dairy and water growth slows

(Rewrites, adds detail throughout, company comment in third paragraph, analyst comment in ninth paragraph, share price in last paragraph.)

By Hugo Passarello Luna and Nadya Masidlover

PARIS--Danone SA (BN.FR) is bracing for a deteriorating economy as it Friday posted its weakest quarterly sales growth in dairy products since 2009.

But the world's largest yoghurt maker confirmed its recently reduced guidance for 2012 as net profit for the six months to June 30 nudged higher.

"We obviously do not expect the economic environment to improve in the second half by any means. On the contrary we think it could worsen," said Chief Executive Pierre-Andre Terrise in a presentation.

The French dairy and water group said business in Asia has continued to trend upward with double-digit growth, while sales in Europe, which accounts for nearly 60% of its business, have stagnated as shoppers in Southern Europe turn to less pricy brands amid falling consumer confidence.

The release comes just a month after Danone issued a profit warning, lowering its operating-margin target while reaffirming sales growth forecast of 5% to 7%, as its key Spanish market was hit by weakening economic conditions.

In recent months, the European crisis has hit the bottom lines of companies across the continent as consumers rein in their spending amid the uncertainty. Consumer goods giant Unilever NV (UN) Thursday posted a fall in profit, signaling a worsening global economy and further troubles in Europe. Investors will await the upcoming release from Nestle SA (NESN.VX), due Aug. 9, to see whether thrifty spending in Europe has hit consumer goods companies across the board.

Danone, purveyor of brands including Activia yogurt and Evian water, Friday reported a 1.8% rise in net profit to 881 million euros ($1.08 billion) over the first six months of the year.

First-half sales grew 5.9% on a like-for-like basis, which excludes the effects of acquisitions and exchange rates, to EUR10.48 billion, slightly above expectations from a FactSet poll of analysts.

"Danone has grown slower than Unilever in both sales and volume terms, which perhaps says something about both companies," said Bernstein analyst Andrew Wood.

In the first half, Unilever reported underlying sales growth of 7%, as sales in emerging markets more than offset lower demand in Western Europe and North America.

In the three months to June, Danone's sales rose 5% on a like-for-like basis to EUR5.36 billion compared with a year earlier, slowing from 6.9% in the first quarter, reflecting slower business in both the company's dairy and water divisions.

Sales rose 2.1% on a like-for-like basis in Danone's dairy business, which accounts for more than half of the company's revenue, its slowest pace since the fourth quarter of 2009.

In its water division, sales continued to increase, but at a slower pace than in the previous quarter. The deceleration reflected a tough comparison from the same period last year, when purchases of bottled water surged as temperatures in Western Europe soared.

At 1234 GMT, shares in Danone traded up 2.8% at EUR48.85.

Write to Hugo Passarello Luna at hugo.passarello@dowjones.com and Nadya Masidlover at nadya.masidlover@dowjones.com

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(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 27, 2012 09:08 ET (13:08 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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