The new year is here and that means that it's the perfect time to sit down with some of the stocks you own -- or, perhaps, are thinking about buying -- to figure out what 2012 may bring.

Today I'm going to take a look at Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG), the global consumer-goods giant that managed to edge ahead of the rest of the market in 2011. Could 2012 bring even more gains for investors? Let's dig in.

The tale of the tape

Market Cap $181 billion
Dividend Yield 3.2%
Trailing Price-to-Earnings 16.7
Forward Price-to-Earnings 15.3
Expected Five-Year Growth 9%

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

The keys for 2012
Investors will obviously want to keep an eye on all facets of P&G's business as it forges ahead, but I think there are three areas that deserve extra focus: the global economy, commodity prices, and the stock's valuation.

The first focus point is really a no-brainer. If the economy is weak, it logically follows that consumers may cut back on purchases like MACH3 razor blades, Duracell batteries, even Crest products. Don't worry, I'm not suggesting that people are going to stop shaving or brushing their teeth -- rather, they may cut back on higher-end product offerings and extras like tooth-whitening products, or even opt for private-label products.

This isn't a P&G-only problem: Competitors like Clorox (NYSE: CLX), Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL), and Unilever will face the same pressures. And while these companies as a group may have to beat back encroaching private-label brands, they still have to effectively compete with each other as well.

In the meantime, P&G, along with its competitors mentioned above, have been juicing their growth rates by expanding their reach into emerging markets. The slice of P&G's sales that came from outside the U.S. expanded from 62% in fiscal 2010 to 63% in fiscal 2011. And if a 1% change doesn't sound like much to you, consider that when we're talking about nearly $83 billion in revenue, that change represents hundreds of millions of dollars. Clorox's international revenue share increased from 20% to 21% over the same period, and while Colgate's share outside of North America stayed roughly the same between 2009 and 2010, it takes in less than 20% of its sales from that region. Because of the size of the developed markets, that should probably be investors' primary concern, but continued robust growth in those markets could help offset some weakness in the U.S. or Europe. 

Hardly disconnected from the broad economic concerns is the damage inflicted by rising commodity costs. If the simple profit math for P&G is product price minus input costs, then rising input costs can be expected to crimp the bottom line.

The beauty of owning a company like P&G is that its strong brands give it more power to raise prices to deal with these higher costs. However, in a tough economy that becomes a tougher proposition because raising prices may just give customers the excuse they need to trade down or buy from a competitor.

As with the economy above, this is a challenge that's impacting P&G's competitors as well, so at least it's not at a comparative disadvantage. And fortunately for the entire sector, recent price hikes appear to have been relatively well received and commodity prices appear to be moderating to some extent.

Finally, investors with their eye on P&G should keep a watch on the stock's valuation. Currently, I don't find the stock's valuation particularly appetizing. It's a fair price, and one worth holding, but not one that encourages me to buy. However, Mr. Market has a tendency to do silly things and I wouldn't put it past him to put P&G on sale at some point.

The one number I love
I don't own P&G stock, but I have rated it an outperformer in my Motley Fool CAPS portfolio -- and I plan to keep it that way. With strong brands and a very dependable business, this is a stock that I don't see giving investors many sleepless nights.

And while the capital gains on P&G's stock may not have been particularly eye-catching in 2011, investors don't want to overlook the fact that the stock pays a 3.2% dividend. Of course P&G isn't the only great dividend payer you can buy. You can find a bunch of other high-quality dividends in The Motley Fool's special report "Secure Your Future With 11 Rock-Solid Dividend Stocks."

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.