Did Colgate-Palmolive Just Crater?

For several quarters now, I've written about Colgate-Palmolive's (NYSE: CL  ) premium valuation. Moreover, I've warned that shares could tumble on a financial miss. Well, that's exactly what happened when the company released second-quarter earnings yesterday.

At $3.81 billion, sales rose 2%, missing the $3.94 billion that analysts had penciled in. Meanwhile, organic sales, which exclude currency movements and acquisitions and divestitures, advanced 3.5%. According to a Morgan Stanley analyst, that missed the consensus estimate by 50%. Unsurprisingly, shares closed down nearly 7%.

Net pricing, up 0.5%, may also have disappointed, as it paled in comparison to the mid-single-digit increases of recent years. The relative weakness no doubt owes to what CEO Ian Cook described as "heightened competitive activity and difficult economic conditions around the world."

Also, management revised its estimated full-year fallout due to hyperinflationary events in Venezuela, from a previously forecast per-share hit of $0.06-$0.10 to $0.10-$0.15. Yep, that hurts.

But all in all, this was not a lousy quarter. Volume climbed 3%. Gross margin came in even with the year-ago period, and operating margin widened 1.2 percentage points. And that's in the face of Venezuelan currency devaluation and higher trade incentives. The upshot is that EPS grew 9% year over year, to $1.17.

Moreover, I see no danger in Colgate-Palmolive losing its title as a sector leader. In terms of organic sales and volumes, for instance, it beat Kimberly-Clark's (NYSE: KMB  ) recently reported Q2 results, and if heavyweight competitor Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) appears to outshine when it reports next week, that'll likely owe to easier year-over-year comparisons, as P&G was harder hit by the recession.

Note that management only "remains optimistic" on the prospect of double-digit full-year EPS growth (excluding one-time items). In this jittery market, investors doubtlessly wanted to hear more confident, reassuring language.

Back at the beginning of June, I asked if Colgate-Palmolive shares were a buy. Ultimately, I recommended that cautious investors consider buying a one-third position at what was then a going price of $78 and change. The stock subsequently climbed above $84, only to fall back down the $78 level on earnings news. My view is more or less the same today -- buy some now, but anticipate even better opportunities, possibly in the high $60s.

I will add one thought. If Colgate-Palmolive's less-than-stellar results, along with the positively stale Q2 posted by Kellogg, have you genuinely worried about the consumer-staples sector, consider hedging. The Consumer Staples Select SPDR ETF (NYSE: XLP  ) , where top holdings include Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) , Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM  ) , and P&G, is a nice catch-all. Investors could simply sell short XLP shares, or, for those with greater conviction and steely nerves, chew over the possibility of a bear put spread. The September $27-$25 spread, in particular, could pay off handsomely.

Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Philip Morris International is a Motley Fool Global Gains choice. Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. The Fool owns shares of and has written covered calls on Procter & Gamble. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Mike Pienciak holds no financial interest in any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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