We're still a good ways off from the mood that dominated in the dark days of late-2008 and early 2009, but fear is palpable in the markets right now. So can investors look to consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble
For the its fiscal fourth quarter, P&G reported sales of $20.86 billion, up 10% from 2010 and diluted earnings per share of $0.84, which was an 18% increase from last year. Both the top and bottom line vaulted the expectations of Wall Street analysts who were anticipating per-share profit of $0.82 on revenue of $20.63 billion. While that may sound pretty great, it isn't all sunshine and lollipops in P&G's world right now.
As last week's market action clearly demonstrated, investors are worried about global economic growth. And they're not alone. Procter & Gamble's management is concerned about slowing growth -- particularly in developed markets like Europe and the U.S. These concerns may only be further fueled by Standard & Poor's controversial downgrade of the U.S.'s debt rating.
Meanwhile, the company continues to face mounting pressure from rising commodity prices. Prices of many of the basic materials that P&G uses to make its products have been steadily rising and eating into the company's gross margin. These costs alone are expected to rise by $1.8 billion for P&G next year.
As with the economic picture, P&G isn't alone in facing the commodity challenge. Tuning into any of the recent earnings reports in the consumer goods sector -- from Colgate-Palmolive
While misery may love company, this doesn't make it a whole lot easier on P&G. The company has to walk a careful line when it comes to price increases. Forgo price increases and it'll draw the wrath of investors -- many of whom invest in P&G specifically because the strong brands should give it the ability to raise prices -- while hefty price increases could push still-strapped consumers into the arms of cheaper private-label goods.
These challenges contributed to a relatively muted fiscal 2012 outlook from P&G. Management provided a wide guidance range, saying that it expects organic sales growth of 3% to 6% and core earnings-per-share growth of 6% to 10%. At the midpoint, the EPS range of $4.17 to $4.33 is a penny below what analysts had been forecasting.
Forget all of that
Those are very real challenges for P&G, but I don't think investors need to be particularly concerned right now. With fear starting to course through investors' veins, there may be a so-called "flight to quality" where investors start to hunker down and look for the safest investments out there. With a strong, stable business, a price-to-earnings ratio well below its range over the past decade, and a 3.5% dividend, P&G may start flashing on many scared investors' radars.
While that may be a relatively short-term storyline for P&G, the bigger picture still looks good as well. The company has a very strong and growing footprint in some of the highest-growth economies around the world and some of the strongest consumer brands of any of the major branded-goods companies.
You're not going to wow too many people at cocktail parties talking about your Procter & Gamble stock, but as a stable, core holding of your portfolio, you could do a lot worse than P&G.
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