Unilever first-quarter sales beat expectations

Unilever reported better than expected sales for the first quarter on Thursday, showing improvement from the hammering it took last year from weak emerging markets including a slowdown in China.

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The Anglo-Dutch maker of Dove soap, Lipton tea and Ben & Jerry's ice cream, said underlying sales rose 2.8 percent in the quarter, excluding the impact of currency moves, acquisitions and disposals.

Analysts on average were expecting a gain of 2.1 percent, according to a company-supplied poll.

Unilever had forecast in January that sales would rise by between 2 percent and 4 percent in 2015, with the first quarter at the low end of the range and improvements during the year.

It said at the time that this year's performance would be similar to 2014, when Unilever posted slightly weaker than expected growth of 2.9 percent after economic weakness curbed demand for everything from soup to soap. It was the industry's weakest year in recent memory.

Unilever Chief Executive Paul Polman said at the time that he was not planning for any significant improvement in market conditions this year.