Dutch dairy giant Friesland Coberco has posted a 33% fall in full-year net profit, hit by the stronger euro, lower cheese prices and higher pension charges.

The company reported net profit of €56m (US$68.3m) for 2003, compared to €84m in the previous year. Operating profit before amortisation of goodwill (EBITA) fell by 19% to €188m. The company said the strength of the euro against the US dollar adversely affected the operating result by some €35m. Pension charges in the Netherlands went up by €30m compared to the previous year and reorganisation expenses increased to €19m.

Net turnover slid 3% to €4.6bn, but was unchanged at constant exchange rates. Sales volume rose 1% in 2003 compared to 2002.

Friesland Coberco said turnover from its key brands rose 2%, now accounting for 44% of net turnover. The company said its key brands, which include Pöttyös Túró Rudi, Dutch Lady, Frisian Flag, Peak, Friso, Debic and Frico, were also more profitable than in 2002.

The company said the market conditions for 2004 are unclear and it would not issue guidance on 2004 results because of uncertainties concerning euro exchange rates and the level of milk prices.

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“Only a slow recovery is expected for the economy in Western Europe, whereas the market outlook for Southeast Asia is favourable,” the company said.