PARIS (Reuters) - French cosmetics maker L'Oreal
The group also said on Monday that L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, 89, France's richest woman with a 30 percent stake in the 49 billion-euro company, was leaving the board to be replaced by her 25-year-old grandson Jean-Victor Meyers.
The maker of Garnier shampoo, Lancome creams and Yves Saint Laurent perfume posted 2011 operating profit of 3.29 billion euros, up 7.7 percent and ahead of an average estimate of 3.23 billion in a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S poll.
The world's biggest cosmetics group's operating margin rose to 16.2 percent from 15.7 percent the previous year. Full-year sales rose 5.1 percent like-for-like to 20.34 billion euros, also just ahead of the average estimate of 20.28 billion.
Chief Executive Jean-Paul Agon said the group was well-equipped to "achieve another year of sales and profit growth in 2012" following a year in which the global cosmetics market trend was favourable.
The CEO also thanked Bettencourt for what he called her "unrelenting support to the managers of the group", adding that her interest for the group "remains strong".
The Bettencourts have a 10-year deal with Swiss group Nestle
Bettencourt lost control of her business affairs to daughter Francoise Meyers-Bettencourt, mother of Jean-Victor Meyers, in an October judgement on the basis of a medical examination that concluded she was suffering from a form of dementia.
Meyers, who has been a member of the supervisory board of Bettencourt family holding Tethys since January 2011, was given responsibility for his grandmother's health and physical well-being.
L'Oreal saw the fastest like-for-like sales growth in the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America last year, reaching around 13 percent. Overall, emerging markets achieved 10.6 percent growth.
Among its divisions, L'Oreal said demand grew fastest for its luxury products, "bolstered by a lively market trend", with sales up 8.2 percent to 4.8 billion euros.
The luxury division "ended the year well" in Western Europe, especially in France, while North America "recorded strong growth" and emerging markets were "growing fast", L'Oreal said.
Overall, L'Oreal suggested a two-speed Europe, with good growth rates in France, Germany and the UK but a difficult situation in Southern Europe, and in particular Greece and Portugal as the euro zone debt crisis rages on.
Eastern Europe also suffered, with like-for-like sales down 2.8 percent due to a "dismal economic context" affecting all the countries in the region.
"There are good aspects and bad aspects, it's mixed," one analyst said of L'Oreal's results, asking not to be identified. Positives included an improvement in profitability in all divisions, while Western and Eastern Europe were disappointing.
"Maybe we should be expecting restructuring measures in Western Europe," the analyst said.
Earlier this month, U.S. cosmetics maker Estee Lauder
However, the maker of Bobbi Brown, MAC and Clinique brands forecast quarterly earnings far below Wall Street estimates as it spends more on advertising to support new products and gain market share in emerging markets.
Anglo-Dutch consumer goods group Unilever
L'Oreal, whose shares are up slightly since the start of the year, trades on a multiple of 17.8 times estimated full-year earnings, against 24 times for Estee Lauder and 14 for Unilever.
The group said it would propose an 11 percent rise in the dividend paid on 2011 earnings to 2 euros a share.
(Reporting by James Regan and Pascale Denis; Editing by Christian Plumb and Helen Massy-Beresford)