(Adds CFO comment on emerging markets, shares, background)
* H1 net profit 4.6 bln Sfr vs forecast 5 bln
* Organic sales growth 4.7 pct vs 4.5 pct forecast
* Confirms full-year sales outlook
* To launch 8 bln Sfr share buyback
* Shares rise more than 3 percent
By Silke Koltrowitz
ZURICH, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Nestle announced an 8 billion Swiss franc ($8.8 billion) share buyback on Thursday and revealed stronger sales growth in emerging markets in contrast to other big consumer products companies.
The share buyback follows Nestle’s sale of an 8 percent stake in French cosmetics company L‘Oreal earlier this year and the repurchase plan was bigger than originally expected by the market.
The world’s biggest food group by sales is still grappling with weak demand in China, but achieved growth in many smaller markets in Asia and Africa and Latin America.
Nestle’s rivals, including Unilever , Beiersdorf, Mondelez International and Diageo , have all blamed emerging market weakness for disappointing results this year.
The maker of Nescafe coffee and KitKat chocolate bars has been able to combat slowing demand in these markets, which make up 44 percent of overall sales, by investing in its leading brands and by getting rid of underperformers.
“The environment in emerging markets remains a mixed picture,” Nestle Chief Financial Officer Wan Ling Martello said. “We continue to see very good growth in many of the smaller markets, a recovery in South Asia, while China remains tough in some categories.”
She said Nestle had increased prices in some emerging markets to offset weaker local currencies.
Emerging market sales growth accelerated to 9.7 percent in the first half, from 8.2 percent a year ago and 8.5 percent in the first quarter.
That included double-digit growth in Latin America and robust growth in Turkey, Pakistan, Africa and the Philippines. Martello said conditions remained challenging in China but should improve in the second half.
The company also stood by its forecast for overall organic sales growth of around 5 percent this year.
“Nestle is one of the very few players in the consumer goods sector not to disappoint the market in the first half, and not giving a profit warning for the full year,” Vontobel analyst Jean-Philippe Bertschy said in a research note.
Bertschy, who has a “buy” rating on Nestle, said the share buyback was more than the roughly 5 billion franc repurchase expected by the market.
A strong Swiss franc took its toll on Nestle’s first-half net profits which fell 9.5 percent to 4.6 billion francs, below an average estimate of 5.01 billion francs in a Reuters poll.
Sales growth adjusted for currency swings and acquisitions accelerated to 4.7 percent, from 4.1 percent in the year-ago period and 4.2 percent in the first quarter, as volumes and pricing both picked up. In franc terms, sales fell 4.8 percent to 42.98 billion francs.
Rival Unilever reported underlying sales growth of 3.7 percent in the first half, while Danone’s like-for-like sales rose 2.2 percent. These excluded the impact of currencies and acquisitions.
Nestle’s sales growth in the Americas, the group’s biggest market, slowed very slightly. Growth in Europe accelerated to 1.4 percent, but prices continued to fall.
Bernstein analyst Andrew Wood, who rates Nestle as “outperform,” said Nestle was well on its way to meeting or beating full-year guidance of around 5 percent organic growth.
“The growth in the emerging markets ... was especially pleasing, although Nestle also saw growth in the developed markets, with Zone Europe well ahead of expectations in Q2.”
Nestle shares, which have gained 2.8 percent so far this year, were up 3.1 percent at 1012 GMT, leading a 0.7 percent higher European food sector index.
Like peers Unilever and Procter & Gamble, Nestle is selling underperforming assets to free up resources for its top brands. It is also investing in its new capital-intensive business opportunities in nutrition and health science.
“As we accelerate, we fix or divest, it’s an ongoing process, ” Martello said.
1 US dollar = 0.9078 Swiss franc Editing by Mark Potter and Jane Merriman