Sara Lee

September 25, 2009 by USA Post 

Sara Lee, LONDON (Dow Jones)–Unilever PLC (ULVR.LN) said Friday it will buy Sara Lee Corp.’s (SLE) Personal Care business for EUR1.28 billion in cash to strengthen its operations in Western Europe and Asia in the first M&A deal by the Anglo-Dutch consumer giant since its Chief Executive Paul Polman took the reins.

Unilever will add skin cleansing and deodorant brands such as Sanex, Radox and Duschdas to its stable of products such as Dove, Axe and Rexona. It also produces Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Dove soap, Lipton teas and Hellmann’s mayo.

Polman, who took over as CEO in January, said in a statement “the Sara Lee brands enjoy strong consumer recognition, offer significant growth potential and are an excellent fit with Unilever’s existing business.” Polman is in the Far-East for work and wasn’t available to comment further, a company spokesman said.

Unilever said there is “significant potential” to build the newly acquired brands in developing and emerging markets, which generate approximately 15% of Personal Care’s annual sales for Sara Lee.

The Sara Lee brands generated annual sales of more than EUR750 million and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of EUR128 million for the financial year to the end of June, 2009.

Investec Securities’ Martin Deboo said Unilever’s deal looks strategically sensible because it plugs gaps in the group’s portfolio, and at a good price. Deboo has a buy on the stock and a GBP1925 target price.

ING Wholesale Bankinganlyst Marco Gulpers forecasts annual synergies from the deal of EUR50 million and expects the personal care business to lift Unilever sales in Western Europe by 5%, giving the Anglo-Dutch group a leading position in Western Europe. Gulpers also has a buy on the stock and a EUR23 target price.

A Unilever spokeswoman said 85% of the Personal Care brands they are buying a “perfect strategic” fit with its existing brands. “We may in the future sell some of the smaller acquired brands, but this is something that we will look at later,” she said.

Unilever said it’s too early to comment on synergies and whether any factories would be closed or jobs lost.

The deal is subject to regulatory approval and consultation with European employee works councils, which is expected to take a “number of months”, the Unilever spokesman said.

In a separate statement, Sara Lee said the deal is expected to be completed next year and that the proceeds will be used to grow the business and buy back stock. Its board has given the green light for a $1.0 billion share repurchase program.

Sara Lee also said it has received “significant interest” in the remainder of its household business and is continuing to pursue sale options for the unit, which includes air care, shoe care, insecticides and non-European cleaning brands.

Sara Lee announced in April said it was exploring options for its international household and body-care business, including a possible sale, after receiving interest in the division. In August, it said it was continuing to consider “all alternatives” for the segment, including a divestiture. The company has been restructuring since 2005, spinning off or selling slower-growth businesses.

At 0956 GMT, Unilever shares were steady at 1736 pence, valuing the group at GBP48.56 billion, in a higher overall London market. The stock has gained 13% in value over the past 12 months.

New York-listed Sara Lee’s shares ended 2.4% lower Thursday at $10.54. The stock has lost 19% over the past 12 months.

Company Web site:;

-By Lilly Vitorovich, Dow Jones Newswires; 44-0-207 842 9290;

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