Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB) investors are excited about the stock now that the consumer staples giant is back in full growth mode. Shares are keeping pace with the broader market in 2019 even if they aren't soaring like those of rival Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG).
Both companies will report quarterly earnings results before the market opens on Tuesday, Oct. 22, and the operating and financial metrics Kimberly-Clark reveals might help it to start closing the gap with its bigger competitor.
Let's take a closer look.
1. How is momentum going?
Organic sales are always important to follow, and the news has been good for shareholders on this score. The company's second-quarter boost hit 5% to mark its fastest quarterly growth pace in over three years. It wasn't as strong as P&G's 7% spike, which was its best expansion rate in a decade. But it still beat the forecast that Kimberly-Clark CEO Mike Hsu and his team had laid out.
Expectations for this week's report are for sales gains to slow to around 3% from the 4% average Kimberly-Clark has achieved over the last six months. Beyond just that healthy expansion rate, investors are looking for gains to ideally include a balance between rising sales volumes and higher pricing. Its last few quarterly reports have leaned more heavily on price increases, but the business is performing at its best when growth is coming mainly from rising volume.
2. Is profitability still rising?
In late July, CFO Maria Henry cited profitability improvements across Kimberly-Clark's three business segments for helping deliver 17.2% adjusted operating margin, compared with 16.8% a year earlier. That's below P&G's 20% rate, but is still a positive achievement in this environment considering rising commodity costs and tariff expenses. That success allowed adjusted earnings per share to edge up by 5% even though reported sales held steady.
Investors who follow the stock are looking for another modest profitability uptick this time as earnings climb to $1.81 per share from $1.71 a year ago. Slower cost inflation should help, but the better reasons to be optimistic about earnings growth are its cost-cutting initiatives and its restructuring program.
Together, these projects have delivered over $200 million in savings so far in 2019, helping keep operating profit steady while providing funds that management can direct toward growth initiatives and rising dividends and stock repurchases.
3. Another upgrade to end the year?
Kimberly-Clark raised its full-year growth outlook last quarter and now calls for organic sales gains of about 3% rather than 2%. There's room for potentially more good news in this area, especially with P&G posting a 7% growth spike last quarter and 5% gains over the past 12 months.
P&G executives warned shareholders last quarter that competitors would likely step up their market-share attacks to try to arrest its positive momentum. We'll find out on Tuesday whether Kimberly-Clark's moves, especially around innovation and pricing for its core Huggies diapers brand, succeeded in that area. Looking further out, the stock's movement this week will depend on whether Hsu and his team see the positive momentum on growth and costs continuing into early 2020, following an encouraging but modest rebound this year.