Swiss food titan Nestlé today [Thursday] reported sales up 6% to SFr66.2bn (US$43.9bn), in line with forecasts in the first three quarters of the year.

The company was keen to point out that exchange rates had exercised a negative impact of 7.3% during the period. In a statement to the press, the company stated that if the impact of exchange rate fluctuation was stripped out, sales could be said to have risen by 13.3%. At comparable structure and at constant exchange rates, Nestlé said, sales grew 4.8%, composed of real internal growth of 3.4% and price increases of 1.4%.

At just 3.4%, key internal RIG growth figures (Nestlé real internal growth measure that eliminates the effects of price movements, currency fluctuation, acquisitions and disposals) undershot forecasts of 3.8%, Reuters pointed out.

"RIG in Latin America felt the full impact of the deteriorating economic situation in several countries and was flat," Nestlé said. The group remained bullish, however, saying that it was confident the real internal growth figure would grow by year-end, although it no longer expects to reach its earlier estimate of 4%.

An analyst at HSBC, Anne Alexandre, is quoted as saying: "RIG is disappointing, that's the main thing. Consensus was 3.8% for the nine months. I had 3.7% percent personally. They talk about Latin America on the downside. No-one really expected them to hit 4% (for the year)."

Nestlé said it expected 2002 profit and sales to be above 2001 levels.

Speaking to journalists earlier today, CEO Peter Brabeck said the fear of a credit downgrade from its Triple AAA rating would not stop the group making a strategic important. Speculation is growing that Nestlé could be in the running to buy part of the Adams gum unit being sold by the US pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer.