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Submitted By gshakil1
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(All the content of this study has been taken mainly from the Company Annual Reports and Reviews 2001-2006).
The aim of this study is to look at the effect of changes occurring in the global and/or regional economic environment on the multinational operations of “Unilever” during the period 2001-2006. The global and regional environment is passing through tremendous changes since the start of the year 2000. Globalisation, deregulation, financial liberalisation, economic reforms, advances in technology, enhanced activities of merger and acquisitions (M&As), launch of the euro as a single currency, changing corporate governance, etc amid financial crises such as recessions following the event of 9/11 etc all have affected the operations of Unilever. These all have led to more accommodating monetary and fiscal policies in the East Asian economies, lowering interest rates in USA and Europe, liquidity expansion, and fiscal and aid packages introduced by Japan which in turn have helped to improve these conditions (UNCTAD, 2006). What are the effects of these changes in the global and regional economic environment on inflation and interest rates? How has it affected the business operations, management structure, etc of Unilever? What kind of exchange rate exposures impacted Unilever and how has it managed these exposures while operating as a multinational corporation (MNC)? Did Unilever expand its operations during the period of study? How does Unilever finance its short-term and long-term operations and what is the capital structure of Unilever? How was the market value of Unilever affected by the changing strategies in a dynamic environment? The study aims to provide an insight to these and many more questions during the period 2001-2006.
Whereas section 2.0 contains the brief overview about the current global and regional environment; section 3.0 contains the overview about Unilever, its operations, management structure, etc. Section 4.0 contains the analysis of exchange rate management by Unilever. Section 5.0 contains the analysis of motives and expansion methods adopted by Unilever for expanding its operations during the period of study. Section 6.0 contains the analysis of Unilever's capital structure amid the analysis of the ways of financing the short-term and long-term operations. Section 7.0 contains the analysis of the effects of the changing strategies on the market value of Unilever while responding to the operating environment. Section 8.0 contains the conclusion.
Let's see what kind of financial crises, recessions and economic booms occurred in the global and regional environment.
A large number of recessions have affected throughout the history of the world. The European Union and Australia were affected by the recessions during 2000-2001 and with United States in 2002-2003. Canada avoided the recession and Russia, after a long decline during the 1990s, started recovering. However, Japan's recession, which started in the 1990s, continued. During the 1990s a large number of economists predicted the early recessions of the 2000 because of the boom of the 1990 which was a decade of low inflation and low unemployment. This boom started declining after the regional crises of East Asia know as the Asian Currency Crises 1997-1998. Moreover, during the booms of the 1990s a slight recession was felt during the period 1995-1998. (Koo, 2003; Brussee, 2005; Semmler, 2006; Wiedemer et. al. 2006)
Below is a description of some specific events taking place in the different regions.
A relatively mild contract in the economy of North America was caused mainly by the following collapses:
Dot Com Bubble: A speculative bubble flourished during 1995-2001 and collapsed afterwards contributing to recession in the early 2000s. Stock markets in western nations experienced a rapid growth in new internet sector and related fields.
September 11th Attack (9/11): Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in the US after which an official recession was declared.
Accounting Scandals: Rather political and business scandals caused by disclosure of misdeeds by trusted executives mainly of large public corporations, e.g. overstating revenues, understating expenses, misusing funds, etc. A large number of accounting scandals affected the US in 2002 such as Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers scandals. (Koo, 2003; Brussee, 2005; Semmler, 2006; Wiedemer et. al., 2006)
Argentina economic crises in early 2000 resulted in a decrease in real GDP. This economic crisis ended during 2005 but still poses strict challenges for the country. (Koo, 2003; Brussee, 2005; Semmler, 2006; Wiedemer et. al., 2006)
Asia was mainly affected by the Asian Financial Crises which occurred due to the economic unrest in 1997 resulting from the collapse of Kia in South Korea and Thailand. Stock markets, currencies and other assets prices were all affected by this economic unrest. There was a dreadful currency decline relative to the US dollar. (Koo, 2003; Brussee, 2005; Semmler, 2006; Wiedemer et. al., 2006)
Moreover, in the countries of Oceania, the Australian economy contracted in early 2000 due to the imposition of taxes on various goods and services, rapid US economic slowdown and a post-Olympics construction slump. (CNN, 2001)
The launch of a single currency in European areas was met by much anticipation and the Euro, as single currency, experienced depreciation throughout 2000-2001 followed by inflation for a few months in 2001 and deflation in early 2002. The euro started appreciating against the US dollar in early 2002 and currently is stronger than the US dollar. (Koo, 2003; Brussee, 2005; Semmler, 2006; Wiedemer et. al., 2006)
These changes mentioned above raise the uncertainty of certain factors including competitive pricing; consumption levels; physical risks; legislative, fiscal, tax and regulatory developments; terrorism; and economic, political and social conditions in the environments affecting Unilever.
The Unilever Group is comprised of two parent companies: a) Unilever N.V. (NV) and b) Unilever PLC (PLC). NV is a public limited company registered in the Netherlands. NV has listing of shared and depository receipts for shares on Euronext Amsterdam and New York Registry shares on the New York Stock Exchange. PLC is again a public limited company registered in both England and Wales. Its shares are listed on the London Stock Exchange and New York Stock Exchange (as American Depository). These two companies together form a single economic entity and constitute a single reporting entity for the purpose of consolidated accounts. Both NV and PLC present their respective consolidated accounts. Further, their subsidiaries are also listed in the local stock exchanges, for example Unilever Pakistan is listed in Karachi and Lahore Stock Exchanges in Pakistan. (Unilever, 2001-2006)
Before the launch of the euro, all reporting of the consolidated accounts was in pounds sterling as shown by the consolidated accounts of 1999. Afterwards the euro was adopted as a base currency for the consolidated accounts representation. Unilever adopted the IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standard) on 1st January 2005, which differs from US GAAP (General Accepted Accounting Principles), as adopted by UK and European Law. (Unilever, 2001-2006).
Moreover, before 2000 they divided their operation into five regions, more than 100 countries, namely: * Europe * Latin America * North America * Asia and Pacific * Africa, Middle East and Turkey
However, afterwards they reduced their regions (only in their reports, not physically) to three, namely: * Europe * The Americas * Asia Africa (Unilever, 2001-2006)
Furthermore, Unilever has a dual management structure which is constantly passing through reforms since 2000. According to their report, “Unilever is one of the world's most culturally diverse companies with 24 different nationalities represented among our top 123 managers worldwide.” What's more, through a business-oriented framework Unilever is trying to reform its corporate governance to foster “One Unilever” programme to reduce management layers for delivering faster decisions and faster execution. The structure mainly comprised of: * Executive Directors (including group CEO) * Joint Secretaries * Non-Executive Directors * Unilever Executives (including three Regional Presidents (for Europe, The Americas and Asia Africa), two Category Presidents (for Foods, and Home and Personal Care), the Chief Financial Officer and the Chief HR Officer) * Senior Corporate Officers (Unilever, 2001-2006)
In addition, the operations of Unilever are divided mainly into two groups namely: a) Foods and b) Home and Personal Care. They operate in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry. They have a wide and diverse set of competitors shown in Table 3.1 below. Many of them operate internationally and some of them have a narrow or regional focus.

The main motive for them to operate as an MNC is enhancing their shareholder value by constantly enhancing their revenues, profit, etc while operating in more than 100 countries. Other motives are managing/allocating capital more effectively and efficiently, to enhance its transnationality index (Calculated as the average of the following three ratios: foreign assets to total assets, foreign sales to total sales and foreign employment to total employment. ( (currently ranked 9th worldwide) and internationalisation index (Calculated as the number of foreign affiliates divided by the number of all affiliates. ( (currently ranked 57th worldwide), etc. (Unilever, 2001-2006)
As already mentioned, Unilever has made the euro its base currency. All the earnings etc around the globe have to be converted into euros. The fluctuations in the spot rate of the euro at any given time, in any given region or country, determines the exchange rate risk faced by Unilever. As mentioned in section 2, the different geographical regions have passed through different types of recessions, financial and economic crises, etc so in turn these have an effect on the exchange rate according to their respect magnitude. This can be seen by the constant change in the exchange rate of the euro across the globe which in turn threatened the growth and profitability of Unilever. Let's see the different types of risks faced by Unilever in terms of transaction, economic and translational exposures, as explained by Brealey (2003), Madura (2003) and Shapiro (2006) these are the three main types of exposures of the exchange rate, and how they constantly renewed their strategy to manage the risk. (Unilever, 2001-2006)
Changing prices of raw materials and commodities affected the different types of contracts amid the changes in the spot exchange rate of the euro in light of the volatile political environment, recession and financial crises. For example, due to the launch of the euro as a single currency its value declined at first. Due to this, all transactions that had taken place before its launch were affected. As shown in Figure 4.1, the amount of receivables and payables has constantly declined from 2001-2006. This shows that Unilever has reduced the amount of transaction exposure as illustrated by the magnitude of receivables and payables and managed them successfully with one of the methods explained in the next section. (Unilever, 2001-2006)

4.1.1. Techniques Used by Unilever to Manage Transaction Exposure:
They purchase forward contracts for raw materials and commodities and future contracts to hedge against future price movements. Moreover, exposure to interest rates are secured by fixed–rate, long-term debt issues and a straightforward derivative financial instrument such as interest rate swaps. In general, cash is invested short-term at floating interest rates. In addition, they also use the option strategy for hedging against the transaction exposure. They have also used the strategy of invoice option. They invoice most of their receivables and payables in euros.
Unilever has reduced its partnerships during the period 2001-2006 to fewer major suppliers to cope with exchange rate risk as well developed and implemented an integrated supply management information system. (Unilever, 2001-2006)
Due to uncertainty in factors including competitive pricing; consumption levels; physical risks; legislative, fiscal, tax and regulatory developments; terrorism; and economic, political and social conditions in the environments affecting the net present value of future expected cash flows from the operations and investments, Unilever adopted a proactive approach for developing marketing and production initiatives to ensure profitability and competition in the long run. (Unilever, 2001-2006)
Unilever constantly changed its advertising, branding, pricing, promotional, distribution and packaging strategies to cope with the economic exposures. For example, they used product development strategies, i.e. introduced a new product range in Sunsilk and low-priced Knorr stock cubes. They changed from an Envelopment (Encirclement) Strategic MNC to a Frontal Attacking MNC for enhancing the growth, i.e. increase market share. (Unilever, 2001-2006)
In order to cope with the economic exposure, Unilever adopted a low-cost production strategy by shifting production to areas where it was cheaper to produce and cheaper to buy the raw material etc. (Unilever, 2001-2006)
Unilever calculates hypothetical foreign exchange rate sensitivity (FERS) based on a 10% change in foreign exchange rates. Both NV and PLC report their respective consolidated statements by the number of subsidiaries operating under each parent. The majority of the subsidiaries operate as integrated foreign entities while others (negligible) operate as self-sustaining foreign. The balance sheet and income statement of PLC are firstly reported in Great British pounds and then they are translated into euros to present its consolidated statements with NV. After analysing discussions and other information in various reports (2001-2006) Temporal Method for managing the translational exposure and report their consolidated statements in IFRS. And after the introduction of the euro they have their consolidated statements reported in euros. (Unilever, 2001-2006)
However, Unilever mentioned in their 2006 Annual Report that they adopt varyious strategies depending on the type of exposure, the country and the magnitude, etc and they do leave some amount of risk that is immaterial in nature.
Unilever, as already, wants to enhance its shareholder value by constantly expanding its operations by entering into profitable markets. Moreover, it wants to be cost effective while taking advantage of the economies of scale (domestic as well as international), international diversification in terms of sales and production. It wants to take advantage of lower labour costs and foreign expertise as well as technology while managing/allocating capital more effectively and efficiently to enhance its transnationality index (currently ranked 9th worldwide) and internationalisation index (currently ranked 57th worldwide) etc. Therefore, they used the methods mentioned in the next paragraph for expansion into new areas.
They expanded their operations through foreign direct investment by building new plants in different product categories, such as tea, in different countries such as Russia. Moreover, they have also expanded by building new production plants (overseas production) in cheap labour areas such as India. Furthermore, they have used merger and acquisition strategy throughout since 2000 which is illustrated by the acquisition (horizontal integration) of US diet food specialists, i.e. Slim Fast Foods and novelty ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc. (CNN, 2000; Flex news, 2006)
The capital structure of Unilever constitutes the following:
a) Shareholders' capital: This comprises the following:
i. Called up share capital ii. Share premium account iii. Other reserves iv. Retained profit
b) Minority interest.
As shown in Table 6.1 and Figure 6.1 the debt to equity ratio (DE) of Unilever increased from 0.78 (2001) to 0.85 (2002) then started declining gradually to 0.59 (2006) in parallel with the, first, depreciating and then appreciating value euro. The DE remained below the level of 1, i.e. DE<1 through the period of study which shows that Unilever uses more equity (cross listing in international stock markets) than debt to finance its short- and long-term operations. Therefore, Unilever bears a lesser amount of risk. However, equity on its own is not enough for financing all the operations. Unilever also uses bonds (Euro-Bonds), property and other methods (such as financial derivatives and financial leases) to finance its short- and long-term operations.

As shown in Table 7.1 and Figure 7.1, the market value of Unilever (NV) constantly declined from 22.067 (2001) to 16.467 (2004) and afterwards it increased to 20.89 (2006). This is illustrated by the fact that after the introduction of the euro, the currency depreciated at first and than started appreciating. Moreover, the market value significantly improved due to changing marketing strategies such as pricing, promotion, product development, low-cost production strategy, overseas expansion in terms of plants and production, and using certain hedging strategies such as forward and future contracts. This is the same as with the PLC as shown in Table 7.1 and Figure 7.2.

First of all, it is worth mentioning that this study is not very broad due to the word limits and limited access to information. However, in light of the research carried out, Unilever seems to have successfully implemented a sound strategic base while responding to the complex and dynamic environment. Due to two parent companies merging into a unified single economic activity, its operation appears to be more transnational rather than multinational. Its performance was affected by the changes taking place in the environment especially due to the launch of the euro as a single currency but due to effective and efficient management and implementation of strategies they have not even have experienced a constant growth as well as expanded their operations (overseas production) amid with successfully managing the exchange rate exposure and striving to improve their ranking in the translational and internationalization indexes.
Brealey, R.A., and Myers, S.C. 2003. Principles of Corporate Finance. McGraw-Hill.
Brussee, W. 2005. The Second Great Depression., Inc.
CNN, 2001. Australian recession fear vanishes [online].
Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
CNN, 2001. Unilever Feasts on deal [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Flex news, 2006. Unilever says to invest millions in Russia [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Koo, R.C., 2003. Balance Sheet Recession: Japan’s Struggle with Uncharted Economics and its Global Implications. John Wiley & Sons Inc. 10-34, 66-98, 210.
Madura, J. 2003. International Financial Management. 7th ed., Thomson - South Western.
Semmler, W., 2006. Asset Prices, Booms and Recessions: Financial Economics from a Dynamic Perspective. 2nd ed. Springer US. pp.110-157.
Shapiro, A.C. 2006. Multinational Financial Management. 8th ed. John Wiley & Sons Inc.
UNCTAD, 2006. Trade and Development Report [online].Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Unilever, 2001. Company Annual Report 2001 [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Unilever, 2002. Company Annual Report 2002 [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Unilever, 2002. Company Annual Review 2002 [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Unilever, 2003. Company Annual Report 2003 [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Unilever, 2003. Company Annual Review 2003 [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Unilever, 2004. Company Annual Report 2004 [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Unilever, 2004. Company Annual Review 2004 [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Unilever, 2005. Company Annual Report 2005 [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Unilever, 2005. Company Annual Review 2005 [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Unilever, 2006. Company Annual Report 2006 [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Unilever, 2006. Company Annual Review 2006 [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 25th May, 2007]
Wiedemer, D.; Wiedemer R.; Spitzer C. and Janszen, E. 2006. America's Bubble Economy: Profit When It Pops. John Wiley & Sons Inc. pp.12-97.…...

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