Church & Dwight
Earnings per share jumped 23% year over year, on a modest 5% increase in revenue. Foreign exchange headwinds hurt the top line, but with the international segment generating only 17% or so of sales, Church & Dwight is relatively well-insulated from the strong-dollar drag, compared with global consumer-goods heavyweights Colgate-Palmolive
Ad spending spiked in the quarter, and at first glance, the extra dough appears well spent: The core Arm & Hammer brand notched its third consecutive quarter of double-digit growth, and six of the company's eight major brands enjoyed gains in market share. However, marketing expense increased as a percentage of net sales, meaning it's too soon to declare the advertising push a success.
Meanwhile, management once again delivered on margin expansion and free cash flow growth, thanks in part to cost savings. Also, net debt is down substantially from year-end 2008. Not only is that nice to see from a wide-angle perspective -- given the recessionary lending environment -- it also gives the company additional flexibility to pursue its history of acquiring and building existing brands. I know, I know, mere talk of an acquisition gives some investors the willies. But given management's private-equity background and successful track record, I believe investors can safely look forward to any new deal.
For the moment, fresh developments include a line of all-natural cleaners, which will no doubt compete with Clorox's
I wasn't exactly timid about my enthusiasm for Church & Dwight the last time that I profiled the company. I continue to believe in its standout growth prospects among fellow consumer-staples companies, which in my view are bolstered by category mix, management commitment, and the product portfolio's strong value orientation.
Moreover, management's upwardly revised guidance now reflects 2009 EPS growth of 10%-12% on a GAAP basis, and 17%-19% when excluding charges related to a new manufacturing facility. In other words, investors get something close to growth stock momentum without sacrificing blue-chip stability. Finally, analysts' five-year forecasts put Church & Dwight's earnings growth ahead of that of Colgate-Palmolive, P&G, and Unilever
If you believe that the economy will stink for some time, Church & Dwight remains poised to neutralize the unpleasant odor of financial loss.
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