Investors found some new reasons to like Procter & Gamble (PG -0.78%) stock in 2020. The consumer staples giant has been dominating its industry and boosting its dividend for decades. But its growth rate found a new level during the pandemic as consumers turned to home cleaning and maintenance.
That positive growth thesis will be tested again when P&G announces its fiscal second-quarter earnings results on Jan. 20. Let's take a look at the metrics to watch in that report, which should include a detailed outlook from the management team on the second half of the fiscal year ahead.
Market share growth
Intense consumer demand disruptions added noise to the revenue figures reported by P&G and its peers like Kimberly-Clark (KMB 0.02%) in recent quarters. That's why market share is a critical trend to watch.
P&G has been winning on this front, most recently with organic sales gains accelerating to 9% in its fiscal first quarter compared to 6% in the prior quarter. Kimberly-Clark, whose Huggies diaper brand competes with P&G's Pampers franchise, notched weaker overall growth especially in the key U.S. market. Kimberly-Clark's report comes out a few days after P&G's, but P&G will still give market share updates in areas like baby care, skin care, and fabric care as part of its Q2 announcement.
Many factors are combining to push P&G's earnings outlook higher. Besides the rising sales volumes, prices are ticking up and consumers are tilting spending toward more innovative, branded products. Combine those wins with the fact that expenses are falling, and you have a recipe for market-thumping profit growth. Core earnings per share soared 22% last quarter.
To judge whether P&G is losing a step here, or (more likely) extending its lead, watch for more operating margin growth. That success flows right into the company's stellar efficiency to generate lots of cash that management can direct toward growth initiatives like marketing and research and development, or toward that ballooning dividend payment.
What's the future look like?
CFO Jon Moeller ticked off a long list of risks to the short-term outlook back in late October. In addition to further COVID-19 outbreaks, P&G's business could be hurt by recessions impacting some or all of its key selling markets. Yet executives said they were holding themselves to "an expectation of meaningful growth" in that environment even as the company approaches the anniversary of surging sales volumes at the start of the pandemic.
We'll learn on Jan. 20 whether management still believes P&G will grow sales by between 3% and 4% in fiscal 2021 to mark just a modest slowdown from last year's 6% spike. And if the company is on a firmer financial footing, then this report might also include an update to P&G's aggressive cash return plans that envision sending as much as $17 billion to investors this year.
P&G raised both of these targets back October, and any changes to the forecast in late January will say a lot about what investors can expect from the consumer staples giant in fiscal 2021.