Church & Dwight Cleans Up

Church & Dwight (NYSE: CHD  ) , maker of the iconic Arm & Hammer brand, Orange Glo cleaners, and Trojan condoms, posted second-quarter results that had been polished to a fine gloss. And unlike other companies' recent reports, investors don't need to wade through a slew of writedowns and one-time items to glean the health of the underlying business.

Earnings per share jumped 23% year over year, on a modest 5% increase in revenue. Foreign exchange headwinds hurt the top line, but with the international segment generating only 17% or so of sales, Church & Dwight is relatively well-insulated from the strong-dollar drag, compared with global consumer-goods heavyweights Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL  ) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) or tobacco giant Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM  ) .

Ad spending spiked in the quarter, and at first glance, the extra dough appears well spent: The core Arm & Hammer brand notched its third consecutive quarter of double-digit growth, and six of the company's eight major brands enjoyed gains in market share. However, marketing expense increased as a percentage of net sales, meaning it's too soon to declare the advertising push a success.

Meanwhile, management once again delivered on margin expansion and free cash flow growth, thanks in part to cost savings. Also, net debt is down substantially from year-end 2008. Not only is that nice to see from a wide-angle perspective -- given the recessionary lending environment -- it also gives the company additional flexibility to pursue its history of acquiring and building existing brands. I know, I know, mere talk of an acquisition gives some investors the willies. But given management's private-equity background and successful track record, I believe investors can safely look forward to any new deal.

For the moment, fresh developments include a line of all-natural cleaners, which will no doubt compete with Clorox's (NYSE: CLX  ) fast-growing Green Works line, and new products from the Oxiclean and Spinbrush brands. Perhaps the most immediate benefit to shareholders comes in the form of a whopping 56% dividend increase. A few more similar hikes and the payout will finally approach that of competitors!

I wasn't exactly timid about my enthusiasm for Church & Dwight the last time that I profiled the company. I continue to believe in its standout growth prospects among fellow consumer-staples companies, which in my view are bolstered by category mix, management commitment, and the product portfolio's strong value orientation.

Moreover, management's upwardly revised guidance now reflects 2009 EPS growth of 10%-12% on a GAAP basis, and 17%-19% when excluding charges related to a new manufacturing facility. In other words, investors get something close to growth stock momentum without sacrificing blue-chip stability. Finally, analysts' five-year forecasts put Church & Dwight's earnings growth ahead of that of Colgate-Palmolive, P&G, and Unilever (NYSE: UL  ) , among the global trio of consumer-staples heavyweights.

If you believe that the economy will stink for some time, Church & Dwight remains poised to neutralize the unpleasant odor of financial loss.

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Procter & Gamble and Unilever are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Procter & Gamble. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Mike Pienciak's got a box of Arm & Hammer in his fridge and shares of Church & Dwight in his brokerage account, but he does not own shares of any other company mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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