Steady-as-she-goes Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) has peered into the future, and likes what it sees. For the seventh time in the last eight quarters, the consumer products giant has upped its profit forecast, this time guiding earnings per share for the fiscal second quarter $0.02 to $0.04 above the $1.26 consensus.

The maker of nearly everything you use -- Tide, Cheer, Bounce, Olay, Cover Girl, Clairol, Crest, Luvs, Pampers, Cascade, Joy, Mr. Clean, Folgers, Head & Shoulders, Iams, Puffs, and more -- credits better-than-expected performance in two areas. For starters, the unexpectedly early and severe cold and flu season in North America helped pump up the health care segment and sales of products like Vicks NyQuil and Pepto-Bismol. Management says it doesn't expect that increase to be sustainable as, unfortunately, cold and flu cases are already starting to decline. (Just kidding about the unfortunately part.)

P&G also says its developing markets overseas are doing well, with all regions "growing at a mid-teens percentage or better."

Almost a year ago today, I wrote about how well the company had turned things around after implementing a restructuring and cost-cutting program. A look at fiscal 2003, which ended last June, shows the trend is continuing with regards to operating cash flow and free cash flow:

    Fiscal     OCF          FCF1997     $5,882       $3,7531998      4,885        2,3261999      5,544        2,7162000      4,675        1,6572001      5,804        3,3182002      7,742        6,290
2003 8,700 7,218(in millions)

P&G's stock has gained 17%, including dividends, since I wrote that column. Despite its strong operating results since then, that's less than the S&P 500's 32% gain over the same period. Still, this is a relatively "safe" stock that has outgained the index over the past three-, five-, and 10-year periods by a significant margin, and deserves consideration from anyone wanting to add a little stability to a portfolio.

Done the stain test between Tide and Cheer recently and want to share results? Talk it out on the Procter & Gamble discussion board. Only at