Well, Fools, the moment that the recession inarguably got the best of Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) has finally arrived. After a couple of quarters of falling organic sales and volumes, the company is slashing prices across roughly 10% of its product portfolio.
As I see it, P&G had to do something relatively fast to shore up customer loyalty. In times of economic malaise, lower prices are usually the quickest route to that end. Markdowns on Cheer brand detergent and other products should, at the very least, bolster the company's image in the mind of the distressed consumer.
Of course, certain folks assert that Jane and Joe Shopper will automatically flock back to P&G's premium brands following the recession's demise. From that perspective, a discount-driven business boost right now is hardly worth the potentially lower margins. But if, like me, you suspect a long-term shift in consumer habits is under way, then P&G's decision is a prudent move to stabilize its customer base before those shoppers leave for good.
Let's be clear, though: This is a stopgap strategy. Lower prices may please customers, but in the absence of endlessly declining corporate costs, they don't drive long-term profit growth for shareholders. That task falls in large part to product innovation -- an area that P&G management had appeared to eschew in favor of buying up car washes and high-end shaving brands.
More recently, however, signs of a more focused approach are emerging. The now-expanded Tide Coldwater product line promises to help consumers save big bucks on the energy costs associated with warm- and hot-water washes. Also, to help consumers clean their clothing without getting cleaned out, the company is exploring a low-cost, no-frills version of Tide. Perhaps most convincingly, management forecast fiscal-2010 second-quarter organic sales growth at 1%-4%, versus the 1%-3% growth it previously estimated for the full fiscal year. Notice, though, that the bump up is at the high end only. Nonetheless, Mr. Market sent shares 4% higher on the news.
Yep, I know, P&G shares are trading at a wide discount to competitors Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL ) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ ) . But P&G has stumbled badly. Moreover, consumer opinion of private-label goods is at a high, which in turn raises the threat of store brands offered by the likes of Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) , Costco (NYSE: COST ) , and CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS ) .
That said, if you already own shares, or are thinking of buying, this could be a good time to review your choices in options. Whether your goal is to snag a lower buy-in price or generate income should the stock trade sideways for a spell, options could be the ticket to a more profitable near-term investment.
Don't know your puts from your covered calls? That's OK. Motley Fool Options advisor Jeff Fischer explains how to make money even in flat markets using options. And "flat" is exactly what P&G shares may be for quite some time.
Other decidedly Foolish and potentially profitable moves: