Procter & Gamble (PG -0.41%) is making the best out of a bad situation. The consumer products giant grew its business in the most recent quarter despite soaring commodity costs and supply-chain challenges. Those issues will take a bigger bite out of earnings in fiscal 2022, management warned in its latest report to shareholders. But the company is still expecting another strong year for the business -- and for investor returns.
Let's look at a few standout metrics from the three months that ended in late September.
1. Volume levels: up 2%
P&G's organic sales growth held steady at 4%. Sure, that result looks sluggish compared to last year's 6% spike. But there's plenty to like about the company's recent expansion trends. P&G enjoyed a solid balance between volume and pricing growth, with each factor accounting for about half of the latest sales bounce.
The health-care, home-care, and fabric-care segments were standout performers thanks to high demand for brands like Tide, Bounty, and Oral-B. Management said demand also skewed toward premium products in the U.S. market. "We delivered solid results in a challenging cost and operating environment," CEO David Taylor said in a press release.
2. Extra costs: $2.1 billion
The big challenge now is inflation -- it took a bite out of P&G's earnings this past quarter. The company's gross profit margin dove by 4 percentage points despite aggressive cost cuts. The company paid far more for raw materials and transportation, which resulted in declining core earnings. The outlook has worsened on this score, too. Executives now see rising costs removing roughly $2.1 billion from profits in fiscal 2022, up from last quarter's estimate of $1.9 billion.
3. Free cash flow productivity: 90%
P&G is still one of the most efficient businesses on the market. Operating cash flow was nearly $5 billion and the company converted nearly all of those earnings into free cash. In fact, management expects that rate, which it calls free cash flow conversion, to land at 90% for the full fiscal year. Success on this score gives P&G plenty of resources it can direct toward growing the business, delaying price increases, and returning more cash to shareholders.
4. Outlook: steady at 2% to 4%
Management affirmed its initial growth outlook that calls for organic sales to rise by by 2% and 4%, marking a modest slowdown compared to the 6% increase the company managed in each of the prior two fiscal years. Both of these periods were severely impacted by COVID-19, yet P&G isn't enduring much of a growth hangover. While consumers are venturing outdoors again, they're still buying P&G's products.
5. Cash returns this year: $16 billion
Management affirmed its short-term earnings outlook even though inflation appears to be running hot. It will take some time before price increases work their way through the portfolio. On the bright side, profits are still expected to rise in fiscal 2022.
Meanwhile, this is shaping up to be a banner year for direct investor returns. P&G will send roughly $16 billion to shareholders, evenly split between dividends and stock repurchases. Its efficient business model allows it to carry these out even through such challenging periods as this one. That's just another reason to like P&G stock, especially given that it has trailed the market so far in 2021.