Maybe the third time will be the charm. Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) is less than a week away from its first earnings report of a new fiscal year, and shareholders are hoping for better results than what it delivered the previous two quarters, which were marked by sluggish sales growth that missed management's targets.
P&G has been working to end a stubborn period of modest market share losses for several of its core franchises. The consumer products titan also hopes to reap benefits from aggressive cost cuts that might supercharge earnings growth in fiscal 2019. But first it needs to show progress in a few key sales and profitability metrics. Let's take a closer look at what investors should be looking for when the fiscal first-quarter results arrive on Oct. 19.
1. Organic sales growth
Organic sales growth, which measures core revenue growth by factoring out exchange rate shifts and brand acquisitions, slowed to a 1% rate over the prior 12 months from 2% in fiscal 2017. Both of those figures were disappointing, but P&G had good company in this struggle. For example, rival Kimberly Clark's comparable results have been flat recently. However, P&G's performance still reflects another year of weakness for core brands like Gillette and Pampers.
CEO David Taylor and his team said back in late July that they'd noticed a modest uptick in demand, despite the tough selling environment. Yet they admitted that the trends were disappointing. "We have more work to do to accelerate results," Taylor told investors on an earnings conference call.
P&G has predicted that its sales growth rate will accelerate into the 2% to 3% range this year, and next Friday will mark management's first opportunity to adjust that forecast, either up or down. Investors are hoping for stability, at a minimum, given that the company had to reduce its outlook during each of the last two fiscal years.
2. Where the growth comes from
Looking a bit deeper into that growth figure, shareholders should watch for signs that P&G is finding at least some support for higher prices. Despite advancements in product design and advertising over the last few quarters, the company has had to delay price boosts -- and in fact, it cut prices on its razors and blades -- to protect its market share.
P&G rolled out higher prices for products across its portfolio during the period, though, so the first quarter results will tell investors a lot about whether the company can make such moves and still keep sales volumes trending higher. Overall, pricing was a 1% drag on results last year, while volume edged higher by 2%. The company's hoping to get both of those figures solidly into positive territory.
3. Strategic shifts
P&G's board of directors this year includes a key new addition: activist investor Nelson Peltz, the billionaire CEO of Trian Fund Management. So far, the board has been supportive of management's strategies, which include major efforts to improve its marketing strategy, supply chain, and e-commerce approach. It appears willing to wait and see if those growth initiatives produce results.
Taylor and his team can cite a few encouraging metrics in support of the argument that their broader rebound strategy is working. In an investor presentation this month, for example, they noted that an increasing percentage of P&G's top franchises are holding or expanding their market shares.
Still, given the broader track record of surprisingly weak sales, and the stock's underperformance over the past decade, pressure will likely mount on P&G to make more aggressive changes to its portfolio or corporate structure if it doesn't show at least modest progress toward a sales rebound in fiscal 2019.