The market is largely directionless today as traders take a breather in the midst of an otherwise disappointing third-quarter earnings season. As of 2:45 p.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) , the most watched blue-chip index, is up a mere 17 points, or 0.13%.
By comparison, the best-performing stock on the Dow, Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) , is hurtling upward, higher by more than 3% in intraday trading. The move relates to P&G's third-quarter earnings, which it reported earlier today.
How did P&G perform?
P&G notched an impressive beat on the bottom line while coming up slightly short with respect to sales. Core earnings were $1.06 per share versus the average analyst estimate of $0.96. Sales of $20.7 billion were roughly in line with expectations, and gross margin improved from 49.8% to 50.1%.
The bottom-line beat is a relief to P&G's CEO, Bob McDonald. Over the last year, McDonald has been fighting against activist hedge fund manager William Ackman to retain control of the consumer products giant. Ackman's fund, Pershing Capital Management, took a $1.8 billion stake in the company and has since agitated for cost reductions and a changeover at the top.
Even Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) , which owns a 2.2% stake in the company, recently jumped into the fray. In an interview yesterday on CNBC, Buffett said:
What goes on inside the place, what mistakes have been made, what the plans are, I don't know the answers on that. The jury's out on that now, because they have disappointed in terms of earnings, and we'll see what happens. I know the board is actively engaged and trying to come up with a strategy they think makes sense to take the earnings forward.
These comments aside, McDonald has likely bought himself time with the third-quarter results and a number of cost-saving measures that have either been implemented or are in the works. Earlier in the year, the company announced a $10 billion restructuring plan targeted toward improving productivity. And on a conference call today, McDonald said, "We're focused on embedding a culture of productivity in the company that's equal to our culture of innovation." Needless to say, the proof is in the pudding.
The Foolish bottom line
With a couple of weeks left in earnings season, investors are bound to experience continued volatility in the market. As a result, today's respite should be a welcome break.
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