U.S.-based giant Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG)has a very high reputation among investors. There is good reason for this, as P&G has a long and established history of rewarding shareholders. P&G is a Dividend Aristocrat more than twice over, having raised its dividend for 59 years in a row.
As a result, there is a tendency to pick P&G as the best consumer staples stock by default. But investors brave enough to look overseas will find some highly profitable consumer stocks that are actually growing faster than P&G. P&G is stuck in a very difficult climate, with the rising dollar eroding its sales, and a bloated brand portfolio that management is busily trying to slim down.
Advantage No. 1: Currency
P&G is getting bludgeoned by the strong dollar. For large U.S.-based multinationals such as P&G, the rising U.S. dollar against international currencies like the euro has withered overseas revenue. That's because international sales are worth less when they are converted back into the domestic currency.
In fact, the strengthening U.S. dollar shaved six full percentage points off of P&G's revenue growth in fiscal 2015. Because of such unfavorable currency fluctuations, P&G's net revenue declined 5% year over year, to $76.3 billion. Even excluding currency, P&G's organic sales increased just 1% in fiscal 2015.
In comparison, Nestle's organic revenue increased 4.5% through the first half of its fiscal year. Unilever did even better -- its revenue was up 12% through the first half, year over year, thanks to a 10-point currency tailwind. This indicates that as U.S. multinationals suffer from the rising dollar, international giants are actually benefiting.
Advantage No. 2: Food
P&G is a staples company only, focusing on products like toothpaste, laundry detergent, and razor blades. In contrast, Nestle and Unilever have large food businesses. Unilever operates brands like Ben & Jerry's, Lipton, and Hellman's. This gives Nestle and Unilever an edge because their successful food brands provide stable growth, and a steady source of profits.
Nestle has a huge portfolio of food brands, including its namesake chocolate and confectionary products, as well as a number of cereal, dairy, and frozen foods. Organic revenue of its water products rose 5.3% over the first half, driven by double-digit growth for Nestle Pure Life. Sales of Nestle's nutrition products rose 3.9% organically in that time.
Unilever's food business grew organic volume by 1.5% over the first half of the year, along with 1.6% organic revenue growth in that time.
Advantage No. 3: Emerging markets
Lastly, Nestle and Unilever are leading P&G in the highly lucrative emerging markets, where economic growth is much higher than in more developed nations like the United States. Emerging markets made up 57% of Unilever's sales, and 44% of Nestle's sales last year, compared to 39% for P&G.
Unilever is thriving in under-developed economies like India and China, and has restructured its portfolio to make even further advancements there. For example, last year, Unilever sold two North American pasta sauce businesses, Ragu and Bertolli, for $2.15 billion, and reinvested the proceeds in the Qinyuan Group, a water purification business in China. This move doubled Unilever's size in that product segment.
Nestle grew organic revenue in its developing markets business by 7.3% in the first half of 2015, year over year.
The net effect
Cumulatively, the three factors mentioned above have weighed significantly on P&G. The company's revenue declined last year, which has made it difficult to reward shareholders. P&G stock is underperforming its two European rivals, and P&G only managed a 2.9% dividend increase, while Unilever raised its dividend by 7%. NSRGY shares yield 3.1%.
P&G stock is down 18% year to date, while Unilever and Nestle are each up 5%. Because of Unilever's and Nestle's strong food businesses and firm grip on emerging market growth, I expect this outperformance to continue.