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Warren Buffett-target Unilever reports first-half improvement after failed Kraft bid

  • The Anglo-Dutch conglomerate said it expected underlying operating margin to grow by at least 100 basis points this year.
  • The company's profit margins became an area of investor scrutiny in February when U.S. food giant Kraft Heinz failed in its attempt to take over Unilever for $143 billion.
  • Polman has since said he had not been impressed with the Kraft Heinz offer and told "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer in May that the company was doing just fine on its own.

Unilever lifted its full-year margin target on Thursday after seeing a big improvement in the first half, underlying its ability to boost returns as an independent firm after rebuffing a $143 billion takeover bid from Kraft Heinz earlier this year.

The Anglo-Dutch conglomerate, whose products range from Hellmann's mayonnaise to Dove soap, said it expected underlying operating margin to grow by at least 100 basis points this year. Its previous target was at least 80 basis points.

The company's profit margins became an area of investor scrutiny in February when U.S. food giant Kraft Heinz failed in its attempt to take over Unilever for $143 billion. The bid had received backing from two major investors in Kraft Heinz, private equity firm 3G Capital and Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

Polman has since said he had not been impressed with the Kraft Heinz offer and told CNBC in May that the company was doing just fine on its own.

"What the investor community is telling us is that they see the positive effects of (our strategy) and it gives them the confidence to stay in the stock or even enter more into our stock," CEO Paul Polman told CNBC on Thursday.

'Strong growth driven by emerging markets'

Margins improved 180 basis points in the first half of the year, helped by an acceleration of cost-savings, it said.

The second half of the year would see more modest improvement due to the timing of investments in marketing and new products, Chief Financial Officer Graeme Pitkethly said.

Underlying sales rose 3 percent in both the second quarter and the first half, excluding currency fluctuations and acquisitions.

Analysts on average expected growth of 3.2 percent for the quarter and 3.1 percent for the six-month period, according to a consensus supplied by the company.

"These are very strong results, as you've seen again driven by emerging markets," Unilever's chief executive told CNBC Thursday.

While Polman conceded Unilever's sales growth in the second quarter had "a very strong pricing component," he suggested the volume component would go up again in the second half of the year.

"Behind these results are over 1 billion euros of savings and we've actually reinvested half of that into ensuring that we have more competitive pricing so ultimately we do think consumers do get the better deal," he added.