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P&G Plows Along

There wasn't so much to be disappointed about when it came to Procter & Gamble's (NYSE: PG  ) earnings today, but investors took a negative approach. It seems the fretfulness related to how the rest of the year may look, given rising costs and competitive concerns.

Procter & Gamble's fiscal first-quarter net income increased 14% to $2 billion, or $0.73 per share, which, while not as exciting as last time around, still met estimates. The divestiture of the company's juice business contributed $0.02 per share to earnings. Total sales increased to $13.74 billion. The company reported particular success in the beauty care and fabric and home care businesses, which saw sales increasing in the double digits. Free cash flow increased 21% to $1.51 billion (not only did the company include its statement of cash flows but also it did the math for you).

Increasing commodities costs seem to be one avenue where investors are spooked. Not to mention, the specter of price wars looms on the horizon. ("Spooked" and "specter" -- hmm, I think I've read a few too many of today's fun Stock Tricks and Treats!) Many of P&G's rivals are anteing up their promotional activities to try to get toeholds on the markets.

Procter & Gamble has a myriad of important products for your whole family, such as Tide, Swiffer, Crest, Pampers, Nyquil, Herbal Essences, and Prilosec, to name only a few (and even some for the four-legged family members, such as Iams and Eukanuba). Therefore, the company competes with a slew of consumer products companies, such as Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB  ) , Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) , Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL  ) , and Gillette (NYSE: G  ) .

In its conference call, P&G management said it won't be pushing its guidance upward. CFO Clayton Daley Jr. reassured listeners that while this doesn't mean they expect to miss estimates, "in light of higher commodity prices and higher price and promotion spending by several competitors, we simply believe it is only prudent to make sure we have the financial capability to address whatever issues confront us in the balance of the fiscal year."

Meanwhile, a large balance of the question-and-answer section of the conference call dealt with margin growth at P&G. And of course, it bodes well for investors to keep an eye on margin improvement.

Procter & Gamble remains a classic consumer products stock with every sign that it has what it takes to keep its crown. In recent trading, though, the company's shares wilted by about 3% as investors got jittery. However, as has been said here before, P&G is no gamble -- though there may be plenty of good reasons to believe there might be tough times ahead for consumer products companies, P&G is arguably one of the strongest in the fold.

If you're a coupon clipper, the competitive activities discussed in this take work out well for you. Fools share loads of other money-saving tips on our Living Below Your Means discussion board.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

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