Procter & Gamble's (NYSE: PG ) shares jumped on Friday after the company reported earnings results for its fiscal second quarter. The stock rose by as much as 3% before closing up on a day when most of the market fell significantly.
Let's take a closer look at P&G's latest update on its business and why investors had some good reasons to cheer the results.
No bad surprises
At the 10,000-foot level, P&G really just delivered exactly what it said it would. Organic sales growth, at 3%, was a bit below last quarter's 4% figure, but within management's 3% to 4% target for the full year. And it's just slightly behind the 4.3% growth that rival Unilever (NYSE: UL ) has been booking lately. P&G has less exposure to emerging markets than Unilever, which warned recently that it is seeing slower growth in those regions.
P&G's adjusted profit also improved by 8%, right in the middle of P&G's promise to boost earnings by between 7% and 9% this year. As CFO Jon Moeller put it in the conference call with analysts, the results "came in pretty much as we were expecting on both the top and bottom lines, leaving us on track to deliver our sales and earnings forecast for the fiscal year."
Cost cuts to boost profits
Cost improvements will be another key to delivering that earnings boost. And on that score P&G is already seeing some solid benefits from its push to find efficiency gains. Over the last six months, the company's SG&A expense has fallen by $400 million, or 3%, despite slightly higher sales.
Investors can expect that profitable trend to continue -- and even accelerate -- over the next few quarters: P&G now believes that it can quickly reach a pace of removing $1.6 billion of costs per year from its books.
Still, efficiency improvements will only take the consumer products giant so far. If it wants to hit its ambitious earnings and revenue goals, P&G will need to book some strong sales growth over the next two quarters. And it aims to do that with a host of new product introductions.
With innovations in the fabric business around the Tide and Gain brands, along with new products in oral care, beauty, and grooming, P&G is hoping to build on the success it's had with blockbusters like Tide Pods, which is still growing in the U.S and now expanding into Europe. The company is also seeing some promising gains in products like diapers, where it has retaken the market share lead for the first time in years. P&G expects these innovations, along with a big marketing push tied to the Winter Olympics, to spur significant sales growth over the next few quarters.
Foolish bottom line
P&G's results point to improving profits in the quarters ahead. And halfway through its fiscal year, the consumer giant also has a good chance at hitting the high end of its annual sales growth target. Sporting a 3% dividend yield and enough cash flow to fund significant share repurchases, P&G should have no problem delivering solid, and increasing, returns to shareholders.
Start 2014 off right
P&G has been a good stock lately, but there's a huge difference between a good stock and a stock that can make you rich. The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has selected his No. 1 stock for 2014, and it's one of those stocks that could make you rich. You can find out which stock it is in the special free report "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2014." Just click here to access the report and find out the name of this under-the-radar company.