Colgate-Palmolive Raises Prices to Deal With Currency Woes

Currency weakness has led to the reduction in value of sales for many consumer- products companies. Consumer-products giant Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL  ) has resorted to raising prices to deal with the declining value of sales from abroad.

Colgate-Palmolive's first-quarter sales rose, but charges related to Venezuela's exchange rate caused earnings to decline 16%. All of the company's operating divisions contributed to the period's organic sales growth of 6.5%, and emerging markets led in growth with a 10% increase in sales. In February, Colgate-Palmolive estimated that exchange rate losses related to Venezuela's currency valued foreign investments could be between $180 million and $200 million.

The company reported for the first quarter of fiscal 2014 $388 million in profit, or $0.42 per share. This amount was down 16% from the $460 million, or $0.48 per share, earned in the first quarter of 2013. Per-share earnings totaled $0.68 when excluding after-tax costs related to implementing growth and efficiency programs and a sale of land in Mexico.

During the first quarter of 2014, foreign exchange transaction costs were part of the company's higher raw- and packaging-material costs reported in the period. In this period, Colgate-Palmolive declared an after-tax charge of $174 million, or $0.19 per share. In an effort to improve sales, the company is adding new products or relaunching current ones, like its Science Diet pet food line.

First-quarter net sales were up 0.2% to $4.33 billion, and with price increases of 1.5%, worldwide unit volume rose 5%. Gross margin increased by 0.1% to 58.4% and selling, general, and administrative expenses rose 0.5%. The earnings outlook expected for fiscal 2014 includes strong gross margin expansion and organic sales growth; diluted earnings per share on a dollar basis are estimated to grow between 4% and 5%.

How are volatile foreign currencies impacting competitors?
During 2013, the devaluation of several emerging market currencies caused Colgate-Palmolive rival Unilever (NYSE: UN  ) to consider price increases in markets such as Argentina and Russia to compensate for the weakness in these currencies. Volatile foreign currencies in emerging markets led to downward pressure of 8.9% on its 2014 first-quarter's sales growth. The company is also dealing with low consumer demand in North America and especially Europe, where economic conditions are difficult.

Unilever's investments for the future growth of its product line include increased spending on its brands and marketing, growing its number of worldwide outlets, and more sustainable sourcing of nearly 50% of its products. The company is confident that its strategy is delivering consistent growth, and, as a result, increased its dividends by 6%. For the remainder of 2014, Unilever anticipates volume growth, an improvement in the operating margin, and a strong cash balance.

Another rival, Kimberly Clark (NYSE: KMB  ) , is also managing currency headwinds that negatively affected its EPS by $0.15. The company reported organic sales growth of 4% and cost savings of $80 million in its first quarter of 2014. The company supported its shares during the first quarter by investing in growth-related capital spending, paying dividends, and buying back shares. Also during the quarter, Kimberly Clark continued its spinoff of its health care segment. The company will seek board approval in May, and the unit's spinoff is expected to be complete no later than the fourth quarter of 2014.

Kimberly Clark's margins grew during the quarter: adjusted gross margin rose 10 basis points year on year to 34.7%, and operating margin grew by 20 basis points year on year to 16.2%. The company estimates full-year sales growth of 3% to 5%, and adjusted EPS of between $6 and $6.20.

My Foolish conclusion
Shares of Colgate-Palmolive closed up 2.4% a day after the company reported first-quarter results; Unilever and Kimberly Clark shares were down after their earnings reports, despite earnings being in line with market expectations. Investors interested in adding these shares to their portfolio are advised to wait for more reasonable share values.

Current shareholders should watch for continued higher prices on these brands to compensate for the volatility in the foreign exchange markets -- this could jeopardize future growth. Investing in efficiency improvements should help to limit price increases and help these companies manage the challenges of operating in international markets.

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