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Procter & Gamble Shareholders Need Some Cheer

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Grabbing readers in a crowded news marketplace requires trying to make even the unexciting exciting. That's why it was so lucky for us writers that Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) announced in its fourth-quarter earnings call that it had just released a breakthrough moisturizing cream that actually reverses your skin's age by 20 years! How exciting is that?

OK, so that didn't happen. Actually, like most P&G quarters, there really wasn't too much that was overly thrilling about it, despite the fact that some news agencies did their best to make it sound more exciting. "Procter & Gamble Gets Hammered" wrote The Wall Street Journal, while the Financial Times added "P&G and Colgate suffer sluggish sales".

Not as bad as it sounds
Truth be told, it wasn't a great quarter. Volume gains easily outpaced actual sales growth as foreign exchange and product mix pushed prices down. To some extent, this isn't really that terrible, though. As is the case with many multinationals, P&G is trying to expand its presence in higher-growth developing markets. In practice, though, this often means winning customers in those markets with lower-priced goods than what developed-market customers typically purchase.

Meanwhile, the idea is that as these markets continue to develop, there will be a growing base of customers now used to P&G brands that will trade up to higher-priced goods as they become more wealthy. The company has targeted China as a region where this eventual trade-up could have a huge impact.

Though it doesn't make headlines the way earnings per share and sales do, market share is a major driver for a branded-goods business like P&G. During the quarter, management said that the company grew market share in all of its geographic regions while growing or holding steady the market share in 12 of the company's top 17 countries and 16 of its 23 billion-dollar brands.

As for those headline numbers, sales were shy of Wall Street's mark, but earnings per share topped estimates by a penny.

Maybe cause for concern
Though I'd hardly say the quarter's results were reason for shareholders to head for the hills, there were a couple of things that they'll want to keep an eye on in coming quarters. Commodity costs are rising and eating away at profitability. This isn't just a P&G thing, we've recently heard similar things out of Coach (NYSE: COH  ) , Kimberly Clark (NYSE: KMB  ) , and Sherwin Williams (NYSE: SHW  ) . With the economy heating back up, it seems more likely that commodity pressures will continue, so P&G and the others will need to find a way to mitigate it on the supply end or raise prices on the demand end.

Meanwhile, developed markets were more sluggish than expected. Again, this isn't an issue specific to P&G: When Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL  ) announced earnings yesterday, we heard a similar story there. I've been watching the issue of private labels -- the goods sold by retailers like Kroger (NYSE: KR  ) and Target (NYSE: TGT  ) -- for a while now and wonder if this has something to do with the slow sales in the developed markets. If that is the case, we'll have to wait and see whether consumers start to trade back up to pricier branded goods as they feel more confident in the economic recovery.

In all, it was a less-than-ideal report from P&G, but nothing (yet) that investors should get particularly worked up over. Shares currently yield 2.9% and, based on the mid-point of management's 2011 guidance, trade at 16.3 times forward earnings. They could still make an OK buy at this level even though they're not particularly cheap, but there certainly doesn't seem to be a reason for current shareholders to be sellers.

Want to keep up to date on Procter & Gamble? Add it to your watchlist.

Coach and Sherwin-Williams are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Kimberly Clark and Procter & Gamble are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Coach. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. You can check out what Matt is keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio, or you can follow Matt on Twitter @KoppTheFool or on his RSS feed. The Fool's disclosure policy prefers dividends over a sharp stick in the eye.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (9)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2011, at 2:49 PM, DrRonPaul4Prez wrote:

    Gaining market share is the most important thing a company can do. Even if it means taking early losses, it can pay off huge in the long run.

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2011, at 9:16 AM, Merton123 wrote:

    Should investors buy and hold or be looking for another investment that is better priced? What is the opportunity cost for holding Proctor and Gamble stock? I agree with the author that long term Proctor and Gamble will be able to make a market for its products in the emerging markets. That should translate into growing earnings in the long run. I believe that in the medium term (5 year time frame) that Johnson and Johnson JNJ may have better price appreciation possibilities as people can no longer put off buying artificial joints. Quality of Life is more important then building a stock portfolio. So the opportunity cost of holding Proctor and Gamble Stock is not being able to invest that same money in JNJ.

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