Shareholders of Clorox (NYSE:CLX) completely missed the stock market rally of 2019, with shares edging lower on the year compared with a 29% surge in the S&P 500. That slump came courtesy of weak operating results, with sales declining even as the consumer staples giant notched financial wins in profitability and cash flow.
That mixed performance means investors will be watching for signs that Clorox's new rebound plan is delivering the turnaround that management predicted. Below, we'll look at a few of the metrics that might describe the shifting trend for this popular income investment. Here's what to watch when Clorox reports fiscal 2020 second-quarter earnings on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
1. Rebound trends
The clear takeaway from recent earnings reports is that Clorox is struggling to grow its broader portfolio, despite some bright spots among key franchises. The bags and wraps division has been the biggest challenge, with falling demand for Glad trash bags, baggies, and containers diving 14% in Q1 of fiscal 2020 following an 11% drop in the previous quarter. That decline ensured that Clorox's wider organic sales fell 2% in the fiscal first quarter despite a modest increase in its international segment.
CEO Benno Dorer and his executive team weren't surprised by the pullback; they predicted as much in their initial fiscal 2020 outlook. But to meet that forecast, Clorox will need to show improving growth results in the second half of the year. That means investors will be looking for better organic sales and for improving trends in the bags and wraps segment.
2. The finances
Clorox's rebound plan also calls for improving financial strength this year. The good news is that shareholders have more concrete support to go by in this department. Gross profit margin inched higher in fiscal 2019, and cost cuts helped preserve that momentum into early 2020. The company's cash-generating abilities were clear, too, with net operating cash rising to $271 million from $259 million a year ago.
The consumer staples company will need more wins in both the cash flow and profit margin metrics this year in order to continue funding its growth initiatives while still returning cash to shareholders through dividend payments and stock buybacks. Look for management to put particular emphasis on efficiency if sales trends remain slow.
3. The big question
Clorox's first-quarter report showed a 4% sales decline that called into question management's wider forecast of roughly flat revenue in 2020. Executives said at the time that they were confident that operating trends would improve over the next nine months, especially toward the end of the fiscal year.
On Tuesday, that optimistic forecast will be tested by Clorox's actual demand trends over the last few months. The stock's slump since early 2019 suggests investors have low expectations of a sales rebound this year. Still, a downgrade to the outlook could send shares lower if it suggests that management doesn't have the right rebound strategy to push the business back toward Clorox's long-term growth targets of 3% in the context of a steadily rising operating margin.