It hasn't been a great year for consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG). The stock fell by as much as 25% at one point in 2015, before recovering to a double-digit loss that put the company in the bottom third among the 30 members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Let's review the major news that was behind that underwhelming performance, with an eye toward whether investors can expect a better outing from P&G in 2016.
"Dollar Gains to Nearly 13-year High" -- Wall Street Journal, Nov. 6
Foreign currencies made historic moves against the U.S. dollar this year. And that spelled big trouble for P&G, which books most of its revenue overseas and maintains significant production capacity outside of the United States. Most recently, the strengthening dollar powered a 12% reported sales dive in the fiscal first quarter, which would have been a much softer 3% slip on a constant currency basis.
Weak international currencies also took their toll on reported earnings. P&G's net profit plunged by 39% over the 12 months ended on June 30. In Russia alone, currency changes amounted to a $550 million hit over two quarters. "This is the most significant fiscal year currency impact we have ever incurred," an executive told investors in a conference call early in the year.
"Emerging Markets Lose Their Luster as Crises Mount" -- New York Times, March 10
Turmoil in emerging markets added to P&G's struggles this year. As Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller put it in an October chat with investors, "There are more flashpoints across the globe than at any time in recent memory."
Those hotspots include Russia, which removed hundreds of millions of dollars out of P&G's earnings this year, along with China, Turkey, and Ukraine. It might sound like a convenient excuse to blame economic upheaval for underperformance, especially since global rival Unilever (NYSE:UL) has been consistently booking solid organic sales growth.
Yet P&G is uniquely exposed to these troubled markets: They represent 20% of its global business. That reliance helps explain why the company recently booked just 1% organic growth even as Unilever managed a 6% gain. P&G's and Unilever's outlook for the coming quarters implies a continued gap between the two consumer goods giants, in part because of emerging market turmoil.
"Procter & Gamble Earnings Hurt by Low Sales Volume" -- New York Times, July 30
P&G's operational struggles this year can be best summed up in one number: -1%. That's the change in sales volume that the company posted for its fiscal year ended June 30. Volume slipped in four of P&G's 5 divisions, with a 3% drop in both grooming and personal care, and 1% dips in healthcare and family care. The company's fabric care was the only segment to see any volume growth in the fiscal year.
Price increases helped keep the company in positive territory on overall organic sales growth, but 2015 represented a significant slowdown over the growth that investors have come to expect out of P&G:
The good news for investors is that currency swings can't hurt P&G's results over the long term. Likewise, emerging market volatility may lesson in the years ahead. And if not, at least management can make smart adjustments to its exposure to these global hotspots.
Yet a real rebound in P&G's business won't come without a return to robust organic sales growth. That isn't likely to happen quickly. Management's latest forecast calls for potentially flat sales over the fiscal year that ends in June.