By SARAH DiLORENZO, Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — French cosmetics giant L'Oreal on Monday reported a solid increase in sales and profit for 2011, driven by growth in emerging markets, which the company said would surpass western Europe as its most important region this year.
Separately, the cosmetics giant announced the end of an era, saying 89-year-old L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, France's wealthiest woman, is being replaced on the board by her 25-year-old grandson, Jean-Victor Meyers.
With sales in Europe suffering amid the global economic slowdown and the continent's debt crisis, the company behind Maybelline cosmetics and Garnier hair products has aggressively pushed into Latin America and Asia. The company's 2011 sales for "new markets" came in just behind those in western Europe, traditionally the core of L'Oreal's business.
"2012 will be a symbolic year, as the New Markets are set to become the group's number one geographic zone," CEO Jean-Paul Agon said in a statement Monday.
Monday's announcement praised Bettencourt for her curiosity, entrepreneurial sense and attachment to the company, which was founded by her father Eugene Schueller in 1907.
Last fall, Bettencourt was placed under the guardianship of her only child, daughter Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, with whom she is in a protracted legal dispute, and her two grandsons.
Shareholders must approve the nomination of Meyers, with whom Bettencourt maintains a close relationship.
The company reported that its net profit amounted to euro2.44 billion ($3.23 billion) in 2011, up 8.9 percent from a year earlier.
Sales rose 4.3 percent to euro20.34 billion ($26.96 billion), edging past the consensus estimate of analysts surveyed by FactSet of euro20.31 billion.
Sales in "new markets" were euro7.22 billion, despite a slump in eastern Europe. By comparison, western Europe pulled in only slightly more revenue with euro7.25 billion. Growth in emerging markets was in large part driven by Asia, where sales grew 13.4 percent last year. Latin America was up 10.8 percent.
The company's luxury lines, which includes such brands as Lancome and Yves Saint Laurent Beaute, also performed well, part of a trend in luxury products that have bucked a looming recession in Europe and sputtering economic recoveries elsewhere. Sales were up 6.5 percent in luxury.
Agon had promised that L'Oreal would outperform the market in 2011 and record increases in sales and profits — though those are relatively modest goals for a company known for regularly clocking double-digit profit growth. He set out similar goals for 2012.
"The good quality of these results means that we are more confident than ever in the group's ability to achieve sustainable and profitable growth," he said.
The company said the Board of Directors would propose a euro2 per share dividend at its annual meeting in April.
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