Clorox's (NYSE: CLX) fiscal third-quarter results disappointed, plain and simple. Earnings per share from continuing operations for the quarter of $1.02 fell short of the $1.04 that Wall Street expected, and overall, the business looks a bit flat and uninspiring.

But before we dig in further, let's take a closer look at the numbers and how they stack up historically.







Annualized revenue growth 3.6% 3.7% 2.3% 1.8% 1.3%
Annualized operating income growth 3.5% 5.5% 4.7% (1%) (2.1%)

Source: Capital IQ, a Standard & Poor's company. 
*1-year growth is the 12 months ending 3/31/2011 versus the 12 months ending 3/31/2010. **Year-over-year growth is the quarter ending 3/31/2011 versus the quarter ending 3/31/2010.






Third Quarter 2011

Gross Margin 40.7% 42.2% 41.6% 44.8% 44.1%
Operating Margin 17.4% 17% 17.2% 19.8% 18.3%

Source: Capital IQ, a Standard & Poor's company.

With Clorox, it's helpful to look at the numbers in a broader context. Because this company is nearly 100 years old, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to get too hopped up over the results of a single quarter.

That said, Clorox is obviously in a bit of a rut right now. Top-line growth has been slowing, and profitability has fallen so far that we've actually seen a year-over-year drop in operating profit.

The troubles Clorox has seen
The company has been struggling in predictable areas. It cited commodity costs as an issue this quarter, and projected that those expenses would keep eating away at the gross margin during the next quarter and fiscal 2012. This issue has hit everyone in the industry, though, from Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) to Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL) and PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP).

Specific product categories that hit the skids included Clorox's Glad brand and Brita. We can probably blame still-struggling consumers for these stumbles. Consumers seem more comfortable trading down on their trash bags, while spending-conscious shoppers may consider water filters an unnecessary expense.

Don't run quite yet
Earlier this year, I picked out Clorox as one of my favorite consumer staples plays for 2011. Since I don't really bother with one-year targets, that really means I like the stock over the longer term. I'm hardly thrilled by this quarter, but the same variables that I highlighted in January -- Clorox's brands, a reasonable valuation, and healthy cash production -- remain in play today.

I expect that we could see more of the same shaky performance in the quarters ahead, as long as commodities push up expenses and a wobbly economy creates consumer anxiety. But over the longer term, I think investors will do well with Clorox.