On the bright side, Colgate-Palmolive's (NYSE: CL) earnings per share of $1.24 for the fourth quarter were slightly better than the $1.23 that was expected. However, at $3.98 billion, sales were somewhat short of the mark and volume wasn't overly encouraging.

Developed markets were an issue during the quarter. This isn't an issue specific to Colgate -- we heard a very similar story from Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) in its earnings report, and we'll probably hear something similar from companies like Unilever (NYSE: UL) when they issue their reports in the coming weeks. Not only is there less growth to be had in developed markets, but economic hardship has made consumers a bit stingier, and many may have traded down to private-label brands from retailers such as CVS (NYSE: CVS).

As with other branded-goods manufacturers, Colgate will have to continue to work to win back developed-market consumers as economic conditions improve. In its conference call, the company put a strong emphasis on innovation and said that new products have been testing well in the U.S.

The company also had a bit of a hiccup in its largest geographic segment, Latin America, which accounts for nearly a third of total company sales. Total sales in the region fell 7.5%, while volume fell 1.5%. The company is continuing to feel the hurt from the turmoil in Venezuela due to the country's inflation issues. In addition, hefty growth in the Brazilian market at the end of 2009, including high promotional volume, made a tough comparison for this year's fourth quarter.

Colgate is still managing a very impressive market share in the region, however. Brazilian toothpaste market share was pegged at more than 70% while the share in Mexico is above 80%.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Asia region was a highlight for Colgate. Sales in its greater Asia/Africa segment jumped 11% and unit sales were up 9%. Strength was seen throughout the region including in China, Philippines, Thailand, India, and Taiwan.

As the economy slowly mends, there will be an opportunity for companies like Colgate to pick up some ground lost during the recession. Meanwhile, the emerging markets -- including Latin America after this unusual quarter -- should continue to provide a growth driver. But at the same time, Colgate will also have to manage its costs tightly since we've now heard more than a few companies -- including P&G and Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB) -- complaining about rising commodity costs.

At today's price -- 15.3 times expected 2011 earnings -- I'm not all that crazy about Colgate shares. I suspect if the company showed a bit more pep on the growth front I might feel differently, but based on the way these shares seem to trade, I'm not sure that they'd be sniffing this level if the company were growing faster. Either way, I'm on the sidelines for now.

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