Shares of Procter & Gamble (PG 0.91%) have been shunned during the market rally despite impressive operating results from the consumer staples titan. But P&G just keeps on getting stronger, even if Wall Street hasn't noticed.
The company just closed out another great fiscal year of market share growth coupled with solid financial metrics like cash flow and profitability. Let's look at three highlights from that performance.
1. It's not done growing
Investors have been worried about a growth pullback, and that's happening today. Sales gains slowed to 4% in the fiscal fourth quarter, which ended in June, compared to 7% for the wider fiscal year. P&G also posted some of its weakest volume growth since the pandemic started.
But the company is still growing compared to a booming prior-year period. It didn't suffer from as much of a demand hangover as rivals, either. While Kimberly Clark (NYSE: KMB) reported falling sales and declining volumes, P&G is winning share and attracting more customers in key niches like fabric care, skin care, and home cleaning supplies.
"Growth was broad-based across business units," CFO Andre Schulten said in a call with Wall Street analysts, "with each of our 10 product categories growing or holding organic sales [in fiscal 2021]." Sure, sales fell 1% in the U.S. market. But that's compared to a 19% spike a year ago as pantry stocking hit an unprecedented level.
2. Innovation matters
P&G's ability to consistently raise the bar on its products allows it to deliver faster growth and stronger profitability than its peers. While margins shrank this quarter due to inflation, those drops were smaller than what Kimberly Clark suffered. Average prices rose, too, in part thanks to a consumer trade-up to popular, premium offerings across the portfolio.
CEO David Taylor said a new NyQuil launch was a prime example of that process at work. "NyQuil Honey is the No. 1 new item in the U.S. respiratory market, and our Vicks share is up 90 basis points over the past 12 months despite the soft market due to the very weak cough-cold season."
Investors can see evidence of that innovation leadership mainly in P&G's market-thumping profitability. The company is careful to compete only in the most attractive niches that can lift margins through product improvements.
3. The risks ahead
P&G sees several major risks ahead that might make fiscal 2022 just as difficult as 2021 was in many ways. "Raw material and transport costs have risen sharply," Taylor said, and "increased social unrest and economic distress in many parts of the world are putting pressure on local GDP growth." The pandemic is still limiting consumer mobility and retailing and supply chains, too.
The company is still confident that it can grow sales by between 2% and 4% this year after last year's 7% spike. Kimberly Clark, for context, recently projected flat organic sales in 2021.
Executives see an enduring post-pandemic lift for several key categories like health and hygiene and home maintenance, which should help P&G outgrow the industry even after the COVID-19 threat ends. Investor returns will be further amplified by a rising dividend and stock repurchase spending, which together should land at about $16 billion in fiscal 2022.