Ahh, the steady blue chip. In a market that seems bent on making sure that no good deed goes unpunished, Clorox
Perhaps people feel like my buddy Rob, who says there's no better company than one that can convince you to buy something to dump down your sink or toilet. Of course, Clorox also hawks items that you immediately set ablaze (Kingsford Charcoal) or dump down your gullet (K.C. Masterpiece barbecue sauce and Hidden Valley salad dressing).
Yesterday's fourth-quarter and full-year earnings release reported that Clorox sold a bit more overall, with revenues ticking up 8% to $1.2 billion and full-year sales up 4% to $4.3 billion. Fourth-quarter earnings came in at $0.86 per stub, outshining the upbeat guidance the firm released back in June. Full-year profits of $2.56 per share also snuck past guidance by a penny. The bottom line reflects growth over last year of 25% and 15%, respectively.
Elsewhere, the numbers provide a mixed bag. Gross margins were up for the quarter, down for the year. The firm slimmed down operating expenses, reducing the percentage outlays on SG&A, R&D, and advertising. Toss in the effect of fewer shares, and you have the recipe for earnings growth that outran the revenue increase.
Before you hit the "buy" button, consider this: Guidance looks for growth no beefier than a Paris Hilton bicep. Management expects 4% gains in revenues and earnings for 2005. That gives this slow grower a P/E around 20, which will look expensive to many investors. But, as nearly as I can figure free cash flow (without a cash flow sheet -- you listening, Clorox?) the firm's enterprise value-to-free cash flow ratio stands close to 12. Much better. And there's a 2.4% dividend yield to boot. At this price, Clorox looks fairly priced, but there's much to be said for steady, cash-churning juggernauts, especially in a market such as this.