Anglo-Dutch consumer products group, Unilever, announced on Wednesday that it expected a healthy earnings growth this year. The company forecast accelerating sales in its leading brands in the final quarter and expected the growth in earnings per share, before exceptional items and excluding the effect of acquisitions and disposals, to be towards the top of the 8-10 per cent range forecast by analysts. Unilever also said it expected its leading brands to grow faster in the fourth quarter than they did in the third quarter. The shares rose 24p to 567p. It expects fourth-quarter sales to be about 2 per cent ahead of 1999, excluding the impact of its acquisitions of SlimFast Foods, Ben & Jerry's Homemade ice-cream, and Cressida. The group also forecast exceptional items of E1.8bn this year, including E100m relating to the acquisition of Bestfoods.