What Procter & Gamble Does With Its Cash

In the quest to find great investments, most investors focus on earnings to gauge a company's financial strength. This is a good start, but earnings can be misleading and incomplete. To get a clearer understanding of a company's ability to earn money and reward you, the shareholder, it's often better to focus on cash flow. In this series, we tear apart a company's cash flow statement to see how much money is truly being earned, and more important, what management is doing with that cash.

Step on up, Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) .

The first step in analyzing cash flow is to look at net income. Procter & Gamble's net income over the last five years has been impressive and stable:

 

2011*

2010

2009

2008

2007

Normalized Net Income $9.4 billion $9.2 billion $9.4 billion $9.5 billion $9.5 billion

Source: S&P Capital IQ. *12 months ended Sept. 30.

Next, we add back in a few non-cash expenses like the depreciation of assets, and adjust net income for changes in inventory, accounts receivable, and accounts payable -- changes in cash levels that reflect a company either paying its bills or being paid by customers. This yields a figure called cash from operating activities -- the amount of cash a company generates from doing everyday business.

From there, we subtract capital expenditures, or the amount a company spends acquiring or fixing physical assets. This yields one version of a figure called free cash flow, or the true amount of cash a company has left over for its investors after doing business:

 

2011*

2010

2009

2008

2007

Free Cash Flow    $9.3 billion $10.5 billion $14 billion $10.3 billion $12.2 billion

Source: S&P Capital IQ. *12 months ended Sept. 30.

Now we know how much cash Procter & Gamble is really pulling in each year. Next question: What is it doing with that cash?

There are two ways a company can use free cash flow to directly reward shareholders: dividends and share repurchases. Cash not returned to shareholders can be stashed away in the bank, used to invest in other companies, or used to pay off debt.

Here's how much Procter & Gamble has returned to shareholders in recent years:

 

2011*

2010

2009

2008

2007

Dividends $5.8 billion $5.6 billion $5.2 billion $4.8 billion $4.4 billion
Share Repurchases $5.3 billion $8.2 billion $2.5 billion $9.8 billion $8.4 billion
Total Returned to Shareholders $11.1 billion $13.8 billion $7.7 billion $14.6 billion $12.8 billion

Source: S&P Capital IQ. *12 months ended Sept. 30.

As you can see, the company has been a prolific buyer of its own shares. That's caused its shares outstanding to drop:

 

2011*

2010

2009

2008

2007

Shares Outstanding (Millions) 2,786 2,848 2,919 3,002 3,144

Source: S&P Capital IQ. *12 months ended Sept. 30.

Now, companies tend to be fairly poor at repurchasing their own shares, buying feverishly when shares are expensive and backing away when they're cheap. Does Procter & Gamble fall into this trap? Let's take a look:

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Procter & Gamble's share buybacks dried up in 2009 when its stock was dirt cheap. In general, I'm not very satisfied with the company's buybacks. P&G's stock hasn't look particularly cheap in relation to earnings or cash flow for most of the last five years, and when it was cheap, management has had little appetite to repurchase shares.  

Finally, I like to look at how dividends have added to total shareholder returns:

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Over the last five years, Procter & Gamble shares have returned about 20%, which drops to 4% without dividends. That's impressive. P&G has a long, inspiring history of above-average dividends, and it shows in the company's returns. 

To gauge how well a company is doing, keep an eye on the cash. How much a company earns is not as important as how much cash is actually coming in the door, and how much cash is coming in the door isn't as important as what management actually does with that cash. Remember, you, the shareholder, own the company. Are you happy with the way management has used Procter & Gamble's cash? Sound off in the comments section below.

Fool contributor Morgan Housel owns shares of Procter & Gamble. Follow him on Twitter @TMFHousel. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Procter & Gamble. 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. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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8/22/2014 4:03 PM
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