Consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) recently posted quarterly earnings results that got its new fiscal year off to a slow start. Below, I've outlined a few of the main points management highlighted regarding the results during its conference call with analysts.

All stand-alone quotes are from Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller.

1. The consumer goods industry is struggling

July to September was a challenging quarter from a macro standpoint, with slowing market growth in both developing and developed regions.

The single biggest factor driving P&G's performance right now is the weak global selling environment, which continued to drag on sales in the first quarter. In fact, the company managed just 2% organic growth in the quarter, compared to the 3% it booked in the prior fiscal year. Management doesn't see a quick end to those struggles, either. "We expect the headwinds facing our industry to continue," the CFO said. 

However, executives also said in the call that they are seeing early signs of what could be an uptick in the U.S. market. Lower gas prices and falling unemployment might finally be driving a rebound in consumer spending, but it is still too early to tell.

2. We're reaping big cost savings

We expect to improve manufacturing productivity by at least 6% again this year, reducing staffing even as we add capacity and start-up new production modules. We have begun work and what is probably the biggest supply chain redesign in the company's history.

Procter & Gamble isn't waiting for a macro improvement to boost results. The company is busy cutting costs, and those efficiency gains are already clear -- if you know where to look. Sure, profit rose by just 2% last quarter. But if you strip out currency swings, that earnings per share growth would have been a much stronger 9%.

Management expects the cost-cutting to continue, delivering even bigger gains this year.

3. Update on the brand shedding process

We're taking an important strategic step forward to streamline, simplify, and strengthen the company's business and brand portfolio. We will become a more focused company of 70 to 80 category-leading competitively advantaged brands.

Pg Focus

Source: P&G.

P&G is out of the pet care business and is now exiting the battery market with a spinoff of the Duracell brand. These are just two of the biggest portfolio-shedding moves among many more to come in the next year. All told, about 25 brands have been axed so far, which puts P&G roughly a quarter of the way through its slimming process. The end result should be a company that is "faster growing, more profitable, and far simpler to operate," according to executives.

4. Innovation is critical

Pg Pods

Source: P&G.

Management spent a lot of time in the conference call discussing innovation ideas that are coming to market, everything from new Downy scents to pant style baby diapers, to Gillette's popular FlexBall razor. The point was twofold: first, these are the major brands for which the company sees the most potential for ahead. Second, product improvements are critical to the company's success:

Innovations like these build on the consumer and competitive advantages our brands have created over decades. Innovations like these enable us to earn a leading share of market sales and an even greater share of market profit and value creation. Innovations like these stimulate market growth. They spark new consumer interest in the category and grow market baskets. They trade consumers up to higher-performing products.

5. The importance of cash

This quarter is the best first-quarter cash performance in the past five years. Improved results on payables including good progress on our supply chain financing program was a main driver of the strong cash performance.

Despite the weak top-line results, P&G generated a massive $3.6 billion of operating cash in the quarter, leading to almost $3 billion in free cash flow. The company returned even more than that to shareholders, with $1.8 billion coming via dividends and $2.4 billion spent on stock repurchases. Full-year cash return figures are massive: P&G expects to spend $7 billion on dividend payments and nearly as much on stock buybacks.

 

Demitrios Kalogeropoulos has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Procter & Gamble. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.