Stock markets in Asia and Europe were broadly higher Thursday, after encouraging economic data from China and the eurozone. But the global slowdown in activity in the first half, especially in emerging markets, was visible in a number of companies’ reports. Here are some highlights:
Korea’s LG Electronics Inc reported its highest profit in three years, thanks to record smartphone sales that underlined the threat it poses to local rival Samsung Electronics Co. (SSNLF) in the lower and mid-ranges of the smartphone market. Operating profit rose 27% to 606 billion won ($584 million), 15% above a Reuters consensus forecast. The company also benefited from rising demand for its ultra-high-definition televisions. The shares rose 4.2%, closing near to a new 15-month high.
Another Korean blue-chip, the world’s fifth-largest carmaker Hyundai Motor (HYMTF), did less well, with profit falling 7% due, in part, to currency problems. Hyundai said it would consider making more cars overseas to offset the effects of the strong won, which has risen around 13% against the dollar in the last three year and is close to its highest level since the 2008 financial crisis. It’s not just Hyundai which is suffering: the Korean government Thursday announced a $40 billion stimulus package to support the economy after figures showing the economy grew at its slowest rate in a year and a half in the second quarter. That news lifted the whole market, with Hyundai ending up 1.6%.
Angl0-Dutch consumer giant Unilever Plc (UNLVF), the owner of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Dove soap and Lipton tea, said core earnings per share rose 2% on the year, on underlying sales growth of 3.8%. The shares lost 0.5% as the sales figure fell short of analysts’ expectations.“We have experienced a further slowdown in the emerging countries, while developed markets are not yet picking up,” chief executive Paul Polman told a press conference, adding that a “meaningful recovery” might still be “a few more quarters” down the line. Analysts said they were disappointed that the timing of Easter, which fell in April this year, hadn’t led to a better performance in the foods division.
It’s not just French and Italian companies that are complaining about the strong euro. German chemicals giant BASF SE (BFFAF) said it may struggle to meet this year’s profit target because of currency factors. Basic operating profit and revenue were both fractionally short of analysts’ expectations in the second quarter. BASF, a co-owner of Gazprom’s ‘Nord Stream’ gas pipeline that goes under the Baltic Sea to Germany from Russia, is one of Europe’s largest buyers of gas as a feedstock for its chemicals. CEO Kurt Bock told Bloomberg that “we do feel at ease with our Gazprom partner,” despite it being a possible target for further sanctions from the E.U. The shares dipped 3.6% at one stage, before recovering half of that.
What’s true for euro-based companies is doubly true for Swiss franc-based ones. Pharmaceuticals company Roche AG (ROG) said core earnings per share rose 7% when adjusted for foreign-exchange swings, but were flat in CHF terms. CEO Severin Schwan said he was confident of meeting full-year targets, which include a dividend increase paid for by a modest “low to mid-single digit” increase in sales and a slightly larger one in core earnings. The shares rose 1.2%.
SABMiller (SBMRF), the world’s second-largest brewer, said revenue grew 6% in the first quarter of its fiscal year ending March 2015. That was up from 2% growth in the first quarter and ahead of analyst expectations. It would have been even better if Colombia hadn’t imposed temporary “dry” laws during presidential elections, which curbed drinking during a pretty successful World Cup for the national team. Contrary to trends, the company posted stronger growth in Europe than in the U.S. Africa also performed well, with sales rising 11%. The shares fell 0.4%.
French luxury products group LVMH SA (LMVUY) is due to report after the closing bell and will be looking to fare better than rival Hermes International SA (HESAY), whose shares fell heavily earlier in the week after reporting weak sales in Japan.