The strength of the Swiss franc has hit Nestle’s first-half sales and profits but analysts were cheered by the company’s underlying performance and shares in the Swiss food giant rose.

Nestle reported a 12.9% fall in sales to CHF41bn (US$56.6bn) for the first six months of 2011. The world’s largest food maker also posted a 13.7% drop in net profit to CHF4.7bn.

The results did not include a contribution from eyecare company Alcon, in which Nestle sold its majority stake last year.

However, from continuing operations sales slid 5% and net profit dipped 0.2%.

Nevertheless, analysts pointed to Nestle’s underlying performance. The company’s sales climbed 7.5% on an organic basis, with sales up in the Americas, Europe and its division that covers Asia, Oceania and Africa.

The real internal growth in sales – a Nestle measure that excludes pricing, the impact of exchange rates and M&A – was 4.8%.

The Kit Kat maker said its operating profit margin was up by 20 basis points, or by 40 basis points when measured on a constant-currency basis. Excluding the impact of exchange rates, underlying earnings per share climbed 5.2%.

MF Global analyst Andy Smith said Nestle had reported a “very strong underlying performance”, which, he added “underpins our thesis that Nestle would be the most resilient of the big three European food companies” after the first half of the year.

Smith said the growth in Nestle’s organic sales and operating profit margin beat analyst consensus forecasts.

Shares in Nestle were up 0.90% at CHF47.12 at 12:44 CET.

Click here for the full statement from Nestle and click here for coverage of the company’s conference call with analysts.