December 17, 2019 / 7:58 AM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 1-Unilever lowers 2020 sales growth forecast on slowdown in south Asia

(Adds details on developed and South Asian economies, shares)

Dec 17 (Reuters) - Consumer goods giant Unilever Plc said on Tuesday it expects sales growth in 2019 to be slightly below its prior expectations, blaming a slowdown in South Asia and weakness in North America.

The Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Dove soap maker said despite early signs of improving performance in North America, its biggest market, a full recovery would still take time.

Developed economies have been a drag for Unilever for several quarters, where growing numbers of consumers are turning to fresher foods, niche brands or cutting back on spending.

In the company's latest quarterly results, sales in developed markets fell 0.1%, in contrast to a 5.1% rise in emerging markets.

In India, Unilever's second-largest market by sales, irregular monsoons have dented rural spending, while a sluggish job market has weakened consumption in urban areas.

"Due to challenges in certain markets, we expect a slight miss to our full-year underlying sales growth delivery," Unilever Chief Executive Officer Alan Jope said in a statement.

The company said it now expects underlying sales growth for 2019 to be slightly below its previous guidance of sales coming in at the lower half of its 3%-5% forecast range.

Earnings, margin and cash are not expected to be affected, the company said in a statement.

Unilever shares are expected to fall as much as 5%, according to trader indications. (Reporting by Siddharth Cavale in Bengaluru Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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