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Is It Safe? Procter & Gamble Tries to Keep Up

Stocks in this article: PB CL UN

"Is It Safe?" is a daily feature by Ratings that looks at a company's risk-and-reward potential. Find out if your stocks are safe each morning at 4.

Procter & Gamble (PG), which makes everything from diapers to batteries, dominates every aisle of the drugstore. So why are its competitors projected to grow faster?

It's hard to imagine the sort of catastrophe that could throw this consumer juggernaut off course. But as customers limit spending in the face of a bleak economy and a new chief executive gets ready to take the helm, even this behemoth deserves caution from investors. Ratings

Last week, P&G said Robert A. McDonald, the firm's chief operating officer, will replace A.G. Lafley as chief executive officer on July 1. Lafley has led the firm since 2000 and will remain chairman of its board.

While McDonald, a 30-year P&G veteran, has the market development and management experience needed of a CEO of a multinational consumer products firm, changes at the top can lead to management reshufflings and departures of unsuccessful candidates for the top job.

The move comes as analysts question whether Cincinnati, Ohio-based P&G is too big and diverse to deliver steady growth. While the company is known for its market-savvy strategies and merchandising talent, firms with narrower product lines are increasingly posing a threat.

There's also a fear that penny-pinching consumers will bypass well-known P&G brands for cheaper options. While the firm also offers less costly alternatives to its premium brands, they come with lower profit margins.

Analysts expect the company's fiscal 2010 earnings, which include results from the jettisoned Folgers unit, to fall 11%. The company's forecast calls for no more than 4% profit growth for the fiscal year that ends next June, excluding the Folgers sale.

Earnings for fiscal 2009, which ends in two weeks, are expected to rise 16%.

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