Reckitt cleans up and sets ambitious growth targets for core brands

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The Independent Online

Reckitt Benckiser, the owner of some of the world's best-known household brands including Dettol, Gaviscon and Harpic, yesterday laid down a target of growing sales by at least 5 per cent this year after posting a 21 per cent rise in profits in 2003.

The company, also home to brands including Vanish fabric care products, Finish dishwasher products and Airwick air fresheners, set out targets for both net income and earnings growth in the low double digits this year.

The fresh targets came after Reckitt delivered financial results for 2003 that topped most analysts' forecasts, thanks to a strong performance from its 15 key brands. Its shares finished flat at 1,322p.

Pre-tax profits were £660m - a rise of 21 per cent on the previous year - while net revenues were £3.7bn, a jump of 7 per cent from last time.

Bart Becht, the chief executive, said: "Particularly pleasing was the rate of net revenue growth, which was one of the strongest since the merger in 1999." Trading in Western Europe continued to be strong, he said, noting that growth in North America and developing markets had picked up as the year had gone on.

There were particularly strong performances in fabric care, where revenues grew 11 per cent, and health and personal care, up 17 per cent.

City analysts were impressed by the numbers, which beat most forecasts. "A strong set of results from Reckitt in a year when trading conditions have proved challenging for a number of their competitors," analysts at Investec said.

Reckitt also said yesterday it had bought back £25m worth of shares by the end of last year as part of its buyback programme. It has pledged to buy back up to £250m worth of stock.

The company is proposing a final dividend of 14p a share, an increase of 9 per cent from the previous year, making a total of 28p for the whole year.