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UPDATE 2-Danone signals faster sales growth in second half

* Q2 sales up 0.2 pct l-f-l vs est. 0.4 pct growth

* H1 operating margin 14.18 pct of sales vs forecast 13.4 pct

* Dairy Noram Q2 sales down 2.9 pct, seen positive in H2

* Full year 2017 goals confirmed (Adds CFO comments from call, shares, analyst)

PARIS, July 27 (Reuters) - Food group Danone expects sales growth to accelerate in the second half of the year after challenging conditions in Europe and North America hit its dairy business in the second quarter.

The world's largest yoghurt maker, whose brands include Actimel and Activia, on Thursday reported a bigger than expected rise in first-half operating profit, helped by cost control and the first benefits from its acquisition of U.S. organic food producer WhiteWave.

"As expected, the slow start of the year is the result of specific emerging markets headwinds and challenges in Europe and North America," Chief Executive Emmanuel Faber said.

"The very strong improvement in margin and earnings per share growth this semester again bodes well for our ability to reach our objectives for the year with expected growth acceleration in the course of the second half," he said.

Danone shares were up 2.17 percent at 65.8 euros by 0914 GMT, among the top gainers on the CAC-40 index of French blue chips.

"As Danone aims for reliable, consistent results, with no negative surprises, this was a small step in the right direction. We continue to believe that Q2 will be the nadir for Danone, and that Q3/Q4 should see a nice recovery," Bernstein analyst Andrew Wood said.

Danone has suffered slower growth than its rivals, which include Nestle and Unilever, largely due to weakness in its dairy business in Europe which has had to contend with slow consumption and private label competition.

Its dairy business was hit by a relatively unsuccessful Activia re-launch in Europe, while in China its baby food and waters businesses have faced regulatory issues.

The purchase of WhiteWave, which makes almond milk and organic products, aims to help the French company attract affluent health-conscious consumers in the United States.

Danone reiterated it expected double-digit earnings per share growth at constant exchange rates for 2017 with a "moderate" like-for-like sales growth, having achieved 11 percent EPS growth in the first-half.

First-half operating profit reached 1.72 billion euros ($2 billion), a like-for-like rise of 7.3 percent, which was above a company-compiled median of analyst estimates for 1.646 billion euros.

Second-quarter like-for-like sales rose 0.2 percent - below analyst expectations for 0.4 percent growth.

This marked a slowdown from 0.7 percent growth in the first quarter and lagged the 3 percent growth at Unilever and 2.4 percent by Nestle in the second quarter.

Danone's 'Essential Dairy & Plant-based Noram' business, which now includes Danone's fresh dairy business as well as WhiteWave in north America, including WhiteWave's Horizon organic milk and Silk soy milk, had a 2.9 percent decline in second quarter sales.

Danone said this reflected a challenging climate in the U.S. food and beverage industry plus other factors relating to the WhiteWave deal.

The priority was to fix short-term operational issues around certain WhiteWave brands which did not perform that strongly during the quarter, Danone said.

Finance chief Cecile Cabanis said the Noram business should return to positive sales growth in the second half of the year.

In the rest the world, sales of the dairy and plant-based business fell 1.8 percent in the second quarter and should stay negative through the second half against a backdrop of tough markets in Brazil and Russia, Cabanis said.

Specialised Nutrition, which now regroups baby food and medical nutrition, delivered robust 5.5 percent quarterly sales growth, driven by good direct demand for baby food in China.

($1 = 0.8516 euros)

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Jane Merriman)