There was little reason for Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB) investors to pass the tissues today. The consumer products company -- best known in households for its Kleenex, Scott and Huggies brands -- posted a 24% increase in fourth-quarter profits, with sales gains in all three of its product categories. It's the first increase in quarterly profits in a tough year, a moment investors have surely been waiting for.

Kimberly-Clark's fourth-quarter earnings came in at $0.91 a share, or $459.5 million, increasing from $369.6 million, or $0.72 per share in the year-ago quarter. Analysts expected the firm to report earnings of $0.88 a share.

Forget messy cloth diapers; for all those parents who prefer the "out of sight, out of mind" answer to diaper changing, Kimberly-Clark's disposable Huggies brand seemed to be making leeway in its rivalry with Procter & Gamble's (NYSE:PG) Pampers.

It's a good sign compared to the mess last April, when Fool Rex Moore observed the chafing influence of the highly competitive diaper market on Kimberly-Clark's fortunes at the time. In addition to diapers, Procter & Gamble also competes with Kimberly-Clark with its Puffs line of tissues.

Sales in Kimberly-Clark's tissue segment increased 15% in the quarter, while personal care increased 9.5%, and business-to-business products category gained 6.7%. However, tissues aside, the company's earnings included $0.05 per share related to its synthetic oil partnership.

While Kimberly-Clark's overall sales increased 11%, the fourth-quarter earnings included benefits of the weak dollar. As Dave Marino-Nachison pointed out recently, currency fluctuations can help or hurt companies on a temporary basis. And speaking of keeping things contained, some cost savings also bolstered the company's earnings.

In addition, Kimberly-Clark announced an 18% increase in dividend for the year, the type of element Motley Fool Income Investor subscribers look for in their stocks. The company's expectation that first-quarter profits will rise 6% to 9% gives investors a little bit more to hope for going forward.

While the diaper market definitely is an element to watch, Monday's earnings are a heartening sign following the struggles last year. Investors cheered the news, sending the shares up about 3% in the morning's session. If Kimberly-Clark can continue gains in keeping consumers and their kids clean and dry, Procter & Gamble may wind up with something to cry about.

Alyce Lomax welcomes your feedback at via e-mail.