ZURICH, Switzerland — Nestlé SA ruled out raising its stake in L'Oréal SA, saying it wants to keep all other options open. While the Swiss company said it’s committed to the French cosmetics maker for now, the move could be the prelude to a divestment.
Nestlé won’t renew an expiring shareholder agreement with the Bettencourt family, which also owns a stake in L'Oréal, the Nespresso owner said in a statement Thursday. The French cosmetics company’s chief executive, Jean-Paul Agon, said last week that it’s ready to buy the stake and has the resources to do it.
The Swiss food giant’s announcement came as it reported its weakest growth in more than 20 years, saying revenue rose 2.4 percent in 2017 on an organic basis. Analysts expected a 2.7 percent increase. Chief executive Mark Schneider aims for a 2 percent to 4 percent increase this year.
Schneider has begun to revamp Nestlé, having agreed to buy Canadian dietary supplements maker Atrium Innovations for $2.3 billion and jettisoned Nestlé's ailing US chocolate business. He also accelerated Nestlé's share buyback program in response to activist Dan Loeb taking a $3.5 billion position in the company.
Loeb has been pressuring Nestlé to consider selling its 23 percent stake in L’Oréal, an investment that dates back to 1974. Under the shareholder agreement, neither the Swiss company nor the Bettencourt family are permitted to increase their stakes in L’Oréal until March 21 — six months after the death of matriarch Liliane Bettencourt.
Schneider, the first outsider to run Nestlé in almost a century, beat his goal of improving the underlying trading operating margin by at least 0.2 percentage points, excluding currency shifts. The margin rose 0.5 percentage points.
By Corinne Gretler; editors: Eric Pfanner and Thomas Mulier.