Over the past decade, Procter & Gamble (PG 0.83%) and Clorox (CLX 0.18%) have more than doubled investors' money, when you include reinvested dividends. That's actually pretty impressive given that these two companies hail from the stodgy consumer staples sector, known for slow and steady growth. What's interesting here perhaps isn't the dollar figures, but rather the recent trends at each of these industry heavyweights. 

The big-picture numbers

Over the past 10 years, Procter & Gamble turned a $10,000 investment into around $18,000 based on stock price appreciation alone. Those same figures are roughly what you would see with Clorox as well.

But when you take their dividends into account (via reinvestment), the ending value jumps to around $24,000 for each. That's pretty impressive and easily beats out a lot of competitors in the consumer staples sector (though there are others that have stronger performances).

The really interesting thing here is that P&G was facing notable business headwinds before shifting gears in the latter part of the previous decade. Since that point, when it jettisoned a large number of small brands so it could focus on its largest labels, it has done quite well.

For example, even as inflation has pressured the company's margins, it has been able to push through price increases while growing or maintaining share in its most important market and product categories. Yes, earnings have fallen off a little, but that's to be expected when inflation is raging. 

Overall, investors have been very well rewarded for owning Procter & Gamble. And there's no sign that's going to change. Notably, the company has now increased its dividend annually for 67 consecutive years, making it a highly elite Dividend King. The most recent hike, in April of 2022, was roughly 5%. While not earth-shattering, it was a sign of the company's boring and reliable trend of consistently rewarding investors. 

With an attractive portfolio of highly valuable brands, Procter & Gamble is probably a solid option for long-term investors today even though its 2.65% dividend yield isn't as high as it has been in the past.

This brings up Clorox's 3.05% yield, which is a bit higher, but actually toward the high end of the company's historical range.

PG Chart

PG data by YCharts.

Getting back on track

Whereas P&G faced material headwinds early in the last decade, Clorox faces headwinds today. And that could set up an interesting buying point for long-term dividend investors, noting that Clorox increased its dividend annually for more than four decades. On some level, Clorox is facing the same inflation troubles that have tripped up P&G of late. But Clorox's current problems also stem from the unusual supply and demand dynamics created by the pandemic.

Clorox's namesake product line is tied tightly with cleaning supplies, which saw a huge increase in demand in the early days of the pandemic. That resulted in very strong financial performance as the company capitalized on it by expanding its product line. It even needed to hire contract manufacturers to keep up, a costly move. But strategically, it helped the company keep retailers' shelves filled. Investors bid the stock higher as a play on the global health scare.

As the world learned to live with the coronavirus, and that demand subsided, sales of cleaning products fell and investors jumped ship. Then inflation hit, further crimping the company's margins.

The pessimism surrounding the stock, really just the other side of the unbridled optimism in 2020, has been a huge headwind. But, like P&G in the past, Clorox is working hard to get things back in order. For example, it got rid of the high-cost contract manufacturing it needed during the pandemic, among other cost-cutting moves. It has also been aggressively increasing prices to offset inflation. 

But what's really interesting is that management believes the fiscal second quarter of 2023 was a turning point for margins. That suggests that things will get brighter in the quarter ahead, which might lead investors to place a higher valuation on the shares. If you are looking for a stock that's on sale today, Clorox could be worth a closer look.

Same place, different stories

With a $330 billion market cap, P&G is an industry giant. The recent episode in which it slimmed down its portfolio and improved results is a testament to its long-term strength and a reason conservative dividend investors might want to own it -- even if the stock is fully valued.

Clorox, with a market cap of $19 billion, is tiny by comparison. However, it looks like it is on sale and, like P&G not too long ago, is taking action to fix a struggling business. If that plays out well, there's every reason to believe a higher stock price will be the end result.

More aggressive types, and those who like turnarounds, will likely find this story attractive, noting that even with today's headwinds, Clorox's growth-oriented business has still been as strong a stock performer as P&G over the past decade.