A Triple-Play Stock

Consumer-products companies are having an up-and-down time this year. All of them have been attempting to cover commodity cost increases by raising prices, with varying degrees of success. Kraft Foods (NYSE: KFT  ) soared on impressive earnings despite a noticeable slowdown in case volume. Unilever plc (NYSE: UL  ) suffered a sell-off on similar volume results. And Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB  ) went back to the well for more price increases.

But yesterday we saw Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) prove once again that it is the gold standard in this sector. Why the gold standard? Because P&G snagged a triple play in its most recent quarter with higher prices, volume growth, and expense leverage to boot. I classify free cash flow at 96% of net earnings as icing on the cake, because calling it a quadruple play would make the baseball analogy sound a bit silly.

P&G's fourth-quarter growth rates:

  • Total sales up 10% -- attributable to: volume, 3%; pricing, 3%; foreign exchange/other, 4%
  • Gross profit: 7%
  • SG&A expenses: 3%
  • Operating profit: 13%
  • Diluted EPS: 37%

Higher commodity and energy costs cut into gross margins by 300 basis points, with half the impact offset by pricing, cost savings, and scale leverage. SG&A expenses were leveraged 210 basis points, yielding quality operating income growth of 13%. The fillip-to-earnings-per-share growth was due to P&G adjusting tax reserves.

Management affirmed their estimates for next year, noting they expect the effects of commodity cost increases to peak in the upcoming July-to-September quarter.

I hate to sound like I'm gushing over any stock; no company gets it right all the time. But these days P&G is looking like it found the Easy button. If you don't own a piece of this gold standard, you should consider it. At $68, the stock is trading at a reasonable 20 times trailing-12-month earnings (reasonable for P&G). Management looks to be on their customary roll, and if oil prices continue their recent downward trends, look for earnings growth to accelerate as cost pressures ease. A triple play if I ever heard one.

For related Foolishness:

Kraft, Unilever, and Kimberly-Clark are all Income Investor selections. Searching for more high-yielding stocks in this recession-like market? Check out the service free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Timothy M. Otte surveys the retail scene from Dallas. He welcomes comments on his articles, and owns shares of Kraft, but none of the other companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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