LONDON, March 15 Unilever is
considering returning cash to shareholders, making medium-sized
acquisitions and more aggressive cost cuts as part of its
business review, the Financial Times reported.
The Anglo-Dutch maker of Knorr soups, Dove soap and Ben &
Jerry's ice cream rebuffed a surprise $143 billion takeover
offer from Kraft Heinz last month.
Chief Financial Officer Graeme Pitkethly said at a
conference the week after the bid was made public that Unilever
would review its options including examining its portfolio,
organisation, cost structures, balance sheet and uses of cash.
"We do see it as an inflection point," Pitkethly said at the
conference in Florida.
Unilever declined to comment on possible outcomes of the
review, whose results will be announced in April.
Separating the company's food business from its home and
personal care businesses is unlikely, the FT said, citing people
close to the company, though it is accelerating efforts to
dispose of its struggling spreads division.
Unilever is also considering raising its net debt to 2.5 or
3 times earnings before interest, tax and depreciation, from 1
times now, the FT said.
At 2.5 times, Unilever would have 29 billion euros to spend
by 2020, according to Andrew Wood, analyst at Bernstein, who
suggested mid-sized deals such as Reckitt Benckiser's
home business could be a good fit.
Unilever's division heads have been told to review their
operations with the aim of boosting shareholder returns, the FT
said. The company has already announced a program to save 1
billion euros by 2018.
(Reporting by Martinne Geller; editing by Jason Neely)