Why P&G Is Leading Stocks Higher

Blue-chip stocks are broadly higher today after consumer products giant Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) got the day off to a positive start with earnings that handily beat analysts' expectations. With roughly an hour left in the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is on track to close higher for the fifth and final day this week.

P&G comes out swinging
The proprietor of popular brands such as Pampers diapers, Gillette shaving products, and Tide laundry detergent earned itself some much-needed breathing space with analysts and investors today when the company reported better-than-expected second-quarter earnings before the bell.

For the three months ended Dec. 31, P&G reported profit of $4.06 billion, or $1.39 per share, on $22.2 billion in revenue. The figures represented respective increases of 57% and 2% over the same time period in 2011. Excluding certain one-time charges, the company's core earnings per share of $1.22 easily exceeded the consensus forecast of $1.11.

P&G also raised its outlook for the remainder of 2013. It now expects core annual earnings to fall between $3.97 and $4.07 a share, up from its previous range of $3.80 to $4 a share.

According to P&G CEO Bob McDonald: "Global market share trends improved as we continued to implement our growth strategy and made very good progress against our productivity and cost savings goals. Our strong first half results have enabled us to raise our sales, earnings, and share repurchase outlook for the fiscal year, while we strengthen investments in our innovation and marketing programs."

Why it's such a relief
While positive earnings are arguably necessary for any company, they're particularly important for P&G and CEO McDonald. Over the last year, McDonald has come under pressure from activist investor Bill Ackman, the founder of hedge fund Pershing Capital Management who staked a $2 billion investment in the company last year.

Two weeks ago, Ackman spoke out, saying:

I think it's unlikely that Bob McDonald is the right person for the company based on his track record there. ... I don't think that the senior team frankly at P&G has confidence in [McDonald]. We've heard that time and time again. And I think once you lose the confidence of the senior executives it's hard for him to be effective.

Ackman's main complaint stems from P&G's performance relative to its peers. In the middle of last year, for example, the CEO of Unilever (NYSE: UL  ) Paul Polman, told analysts that his company now leads the domestic market in hair care products through brands like Suave and VO5. In 2011, Unilever commanded only 13% of the market, well behind L'Oreal USA's and P&G's respective market shares of 24% and 22%. If Unilever's claim is true, it would represent a remarkable fall for both of the latter companies.

Another of P&G's competitors, Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB  ) , the corporation behind Kleenex tissues and Viva paper towels, also reported strong earnings today. For the three months ended Dec. 31, the company earned $1.37 per share, beating the consensus estimate by $0.02 thanks in part to a drop in commodity prices. Its shares are nevertheless down by 0.33% at the time of writing.

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