Unilever Plc’s chief executive officer (CEO) Paul Polman presented the company’s plan at its annual investor day meet last week. Generally speaking, a multinational subsidiary follows the parent’s global strategy, with local considerations often playing second fiddle. So it is important for Hindustan Unilever Ltd’s (HUL’s) shareholders to pay attention to what the parent is saying.

The message that stands out is that Unilever wants to become lean and mean—focus on big products (those that get €1 billion-plus in sales) for growth, reduce its number of stock keeping units (SKUs), improve working capital management, cut headcount and focus on margins rather than on sales growth alone. SKUs represent the total unique units of all brands (that is, all sizes and variants).

Unilever also wants to change the way it operates, removing layers to speed up decision-making.

Some of these announcements are not new, but cumulatively they give a better picture of what the company is up to. It has set a target to achieve at least €500 million in savings by mid-2014. Polman spoke about Brazil and Africa as two new growth opportunities—India and China failed to find mention—but he did talk about how rural markets are offering new pockets of growth.

In India, does that mean HUL is likely to first shrink and then grow? After all, one reason for this restructuring is that emerging markets have failed to live up to Unilever’s (and other multinationals’) expectations. Growth has slipped, competition is stiff, margins are under pressure and making it worse, currency volatility is playing havoc with emerging markets’ contribution to the parent’s financials.

It should be safe to assume that the organizational restructuring will be rolled out in India. But investors will be keen to know about possible changes to HUL’s portfolio. The CEO did mention that portfolio changes will take into account local market conditions.

If HUL focuses on its biggest and most profitable brands/SKUs and cuts loose the tail, then sales growth could get affected in the near to medium term even as margins improve. It takes time for the bigger brands to compensate for lost sales. But stiff competition may also influence HUL’s decisions in a market such as India, as rivals may step in to take advantage of spots it is vacating.

Investors like a company that is equally focused on growth and margins. HUL’s valuations have always been expensive—trading at 30 times its 2014-15 consensus earnings estimates polled by Thomson Reuters—and partly reflect high growth expectations.

If HUL’s sales or profit growth take a hit in the near to medium term, investor faith at these valuations could get tested. But it is too early to predict the effect of Unilever’s restructuring on HUL’s financials. The first hints on what to expect could become available after HUL’s December quarter results are declared.

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