Last year was a good one for Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) shareholders. After watching for years to see whether its rebound plan would work, shareholders finally saw concrete evidence of accelerating sales growth in 2019. In fact, P&G's last quarterly report contained some of the fastest revenue gains in over a decade for the owner of global consumer brands like Bounty paper towels and Tide detergent.
P&G is looking to keep that positive momentum going when it releases its first earnings report of 2020 in just a few days. Let's take a look at a few key numbers to watch for in Thursday's announcement.
1. Sales growth
Sales growth is always a closely followed metric, and most investors expect P&G to announce a 5% revenue uptick to $18.3 billion this quarter. Yet that top-line result isn't very informative on its own.
The company's organic sales growth is the better figure to watch since it strips out volatile swings in exchange rates and gives a clearer picture of market share trends. P&G's last announcement showed a scorching 7% increase in that metric -- its best performance in over a decade. Management predicted a moderation of that growth pace, down to about 3% for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Within the sales figure, keep an eye on the balance between pricing and volume trends. P&G is aiming for a solid contribution from both areas, but ideally, volume will lead the way higher, as it has in each of the last two quarterly reports. Rival Kimberly Clark (NYSE:KMB), in contrast, has had to rely entirely on price increases for its organic sales growth.
2. Margin expansion
Market share growth has been a key catalyst of P&G's surging stock price, but investors are also salivating at the prospect of substantially higher profitability in 2020. We saw some hints of it back in late October when the consumer staples company revealed an increase of 2 percentage points in gross profit margin and a surge of nearly 3 percentage points in operating margin in the fiscal first quarter.
Kimberly Clark and other peers will be doing their best to knock P&G from that industry-leading perch. Yet CFO Jon Moeller told investors that the margin increase is supported by sustainable improvements to the business that span categories like marketing, product packaging, and innovation. It's also helping that commodity costs are trending lower. Investors will get another chance to judge the stability of P&G's profit surge in Thursday's report by following its margin metrics, especially in comparison to Kimberly Clark's.
3. That guidance
P&G raised its full-year outlook back in October, but its financial targets still imply a dramatic slowing of growth in the second half of the year compared to the blistering 7% pace it achieved over the last six months. The company's updated outlook this week, and comments by CEO David Taylor and his team, should add context to that forecast.
Specifically, investors will want to know how much of the slowdown might come from competitors, including retail chains like Walmart, cutting prices on their own value-based brands. We'll get a big clue on that point when P&G updates its forecast, which today includes a wide range of potential growth, with organic sales targeted to rise by between 3% and 5%. The low end of that prediction would likely be a disappointment for shareholders, while a step toward the high end would show that the rebound momentum is still accelerating.