The planned sale or spinoff of the Duracell battery division overshadowed the rest of the earnings report from Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) the other day, but with a bevy of well known brands in its portfolio -- everything from Tide detergent and Pampers diapers to Crest toothpaste and Head & Shoulders shampoo -- few companies touch a consumer's life in as many different ways as the consumer products giant does.
Yet because management has some big plans for how it's going to be handling those brands, plans that will impact significantly company performance in the years ahead, it's critical that every dividend investor understand these four things about Procter & Gamble.
1. P&G has produced a reliable rising stream of dividends for investors for over a century.
Procter & Gamble has paid dividends to investors for 124 consecutive years, a string unbeaten except by three other companies. That sort of dedication to returning value to shareholders is part of why it's been so successful and why it is a favorite among consumers and investors. Moreover, this diversified consumer products company has raised its dividend payment year in and year out for 58 consecutive years.
Currently, P&G's dividend yields 3%, but over the past 10 years has ranged between 2.5% and 4.5%.
And while P&G's unbroken record of paying dividends is certainly an enviable one, there are actually three companies with a longer history of dividend payments: Stanley Works (NYSE:SWK), 137 years; ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), 132 years; and Consolidated Edison (NYSE:ED), 129 years.
2. A Duracell spinoff won't affect P&G's dividend policy
Procter & Gamble hasn't provided clarity on just how it will handle the battery maker's separation, but whatever path is finally chosen it will be done to maximize shareholder returns.
Analysts seem to think the most likely outcome is a split-off into a separate company, a tax-efficient way for a parent company to redeem its shares. The difference between that and a spinoff is that in the former investors trade in their shares for stock in the new company in a tender offer, many times at a premium to the existing price to encourage participation; in the latter, all investors get shares in the new company based on their existing holdings, which is then treated like a special dividend.
The Duracell business, a multibillion dollar one in its own right, still shouldn't impact the dividends Procter & Gamble currently pays regardless of how the separation is done.
3. P&G is working on a number of strategies to foster sustained future dividend growth
The biggest concern for any dividend investor is the possibility that a company could cut or halt its payout, and just because it may have a storied history in paying dividends don't think it can't end them. After all, Sony (NYSE:SNE) suspended its dividend payment last month following 56 years straight years of paying one.
The Duracell sale is but one part of a larger restructuring Procter & Gamble is performing as it looks to halve the number of brands it owns from around 160 down to about 70 or 80 core brands.
And just because it owns several billion-dollar brands doesn't mean they're all healthy and aren't up for consideration. Duracell has brought in between $2 billion and $2.5 billion annually over the past few years but the business isn't a high-growth one, and not even a medium growth one, which is why it's getting the ax.
There are a number of other brands not related to its core mission, which was one of the reasons behind its sale of Iams and Eukanuba pet foods earlier this year. Such maneuvers should drive further cost savings and allow it to maintain its dividend.
4. There are more changes coming
Procter & Gamble acquired Duracell in 2005 when it bought Gillette, and last year it accounted for around 3% of P&G's total profit. It is a capital-intensive business that doesn't offer much in the way of innovation, though one it completely missed out on was the rise of mobile devices.
One would think a top name in the battery business would have capitalized on the need for quality batteries in mobile communications, but the birth, growth, and ultimate near-universality of the industry has largely passed it by. It's not alone as Energizer (NYSE:ENR), which is also shedding its battery business, and Rayovac owner Spectrum Brands (NYSE:SPB) missed the boat as well, but the move toward rechargeables has dented any hope there will be growth coming in traditional batteries' future.
Expect other product lines to undergo a similar review of what they could have done to make themselves indispensable to the consumer products conglomerate. They've discontinued 25 in the last five quarters, 11 of them in the last quarter alone. There's still plenty of room for further winnowing before Procter & Gamble reaches its optimal size.
Still a dividend starlet
Despite the slack performance and the upheaval in operations, Procter & Gamble remains a dividend darling, replete with an impressive history of steadily rising payouts.
As it strives to right-size the business, P&G shows it understands the balance necessary between growing its dividend in the future and bolstering the bottom line now. As a result, Procter & Gamble still holds a lot of promise as a key stock for dividend investors.
Follow Rich Duprey's coverage of all the most important news and developments in the leading brand name products you use. He 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.