Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB) is set to announce its fiscal fourth-quarter results on Wednesday, Jan. 23. And while predictable sales and earnings results are a key reason income investors like this stock, there might more surprises in the consumer products specialist's upcoming report than usual. The company recently changed CEOs, after all, and has been trying to boost prices across its portfolio to catch up with rising commodity costs.
With that big picture in mind, let's take a closer look at what shareholders can expect to see on Wednesday.
Market share and prices
Kimberly-Clark isn't likely to report a change in the weak growth trends that shareholders have witnessed for more than a year now. Organic sales inched higher by just 1% in the most recent quarter, which marked an acceleration over the prior quarter's flat result but still reflected discouraging market share losses. Rival Procter & Gamble, after all, posted a 4% organic sales increase -- its best result in years. P&G will announce its results on Wednesday, too, and it is expected to grow 2%-3% while Kimberly-Clark trails that result with about a 1% uptick.
This period will be critical test of both companies' earnings power since they each rolled out price increases across their portfolio of staples that include diapers and everyday paper products. That's why investors will be watching for signs of healthy sales volume, and whether that metric contributed to organic growth during the period.
Assuming the price changes were accepted by most consumers, Kimberly-Clark should enjoy higher profitability. For the Huggies and Kleenex owner, that would show up in higher operating profit margin. But investors aren't expecting much good news on this score. Operating margin dipped last quarter and executives are predicting profits will fall by as much as 5% for the full fiscal year as sales stay roughly flat.
Procter & Gamble, in contrast, has produced healthy profitability gains through a mix of aggressive portfolio divestments and cost-cutting in recent years. Kimberly-Clark announced a year ago that it is trying to walk the same path, but that it could be awhile before the results of the restructuring show up in improving profit trends.
A new outlook
Wednesday's report will be the first one under CEO Michael Hsu, who took over the position on Jan. 1. One of Hsu's first acts as Kimberly-Clark's new leader will be to issue a forecast for the coming fiscal year following two years of mostly disappointing results. Sales were flat in 2017 and growth barely accelerated over the last 12 months. Another prediction that lands near zero growth isn't likely to convince investors to become more bullish on the stock.
Yet there are some good reasons for shareholders to be optimistic that better times are on the way, including a new management team, rising prices, and falling costs. Each of these factors could play into a solid earnings forecast from the company on Wednesday. However, Kimberly-Clark's stock returns will ultimately depend on the company's ability to return to a pace of sustainable market share gains.