Unilever commits to keeping London listing but delays decision on moving headquarters

Jasper Jolly
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Unilever confirmed it will keep a London listing (Source: Getty)

Consumer goods giant Unilever today announced it will maintain its stock market listing in London but has delayed any announcement on the potential relocation of its headquarters until the political situation calms down.

Unilever will simplify its complex corporate structure, unifying shares into a single class as it tries to make itself more agile when it wants to pursue mergers and acquisitions.

It will also conduct a “review of the dual-headed legal structure” which means it currently has incorporated firms in both London and Amsterdam, each of which must be treated as separate companies with separate annual general meetings.

The firm is yet to make a decision on the final location of its corporate headquarters, currently based by Blackfriars Bridge. Unilever declined to comment on any timeline for the decision to be announced, and a source close to the company said no timeframe yet exists.

Paul Polman, outgoing chief executive of Unilever, today told the Financial Times: “I’m advocating to postpone decisions because it’s a moving playing field — with political turbulence out there. The emotions of the moment are really the issue.

“The board is going to take a 30 to 50-year decision. We want to do that well and we want to do that properly.”

The firm announced a review of its listings in April this year in a move widely seen as part of its response to an attempted takeover by US rival Kraft.

Some analysts had speculated that the firm might withdraw its London listing after a charm offensive from Dutch Prime Minister, himself a former Unilever employee.

However, major shareholders have privately said the large body of London-based investors would have raised concerns if the firm had moved to delist from the London Stock Exchange. Any decision to delist would itself require shareholder approval.

A single share class would provide greater “ongoing strategic flexibility for value-creating portfolio change”, Unilever said in an announcement ahead of an investor relations day in the US taking place today and tomorrow.

The group is updating investors on the progress of its restructuring plans, announced in the wake of the failed Kraft bid with the aim of “accelerating sustainable shareholder value creation”. Unilever said it is aiming for underlying sales growth of three to five per cent per year between now and 2020.

The firm also said the sale of its spreads business was “fully on track”.

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