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The Clorox Co.'s (CLX) CEO Donald R. Knauss on Q3 2014 Earnings - Call Trancript

Selling and administrative expense as a percentage of sales are forecast to be about 14%, which assumes a return to targeted levels of incentive compensation versus the significantly reduced level this year. We also anticipate an effective tax rate of 34% to 35% in fiscal 2015. Net of all of these factors, we anticipate fiscal 2015 diluted earnings per share from continuing operations in the range of $4.35 to $4.50. Importantly, this outlook assumes continued double-digit devaluations in both Venezuela and Argentina.

Looking forward, we're committed to accelerating top-line growth through product innovation and stepped-up investments in our demand-building programs. To fund this, we're going to continue to focus on the things we can control, including leaning harder on our cost savings programs and driving efficiencies to increase productivity.

And with that, I will turn it over to Don.

Donald R. Knauss, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer

Must Read: Yelp, Inc. (YELP) Q1 2014 Earnings Call

Okay. Thanks, Steve, and hello to everyone on the call. Well, as Steve said, we delivered 5% diluted EPS in the quarter even with the impact of the devaluation of Venezuela. That said, we're certainly not satisfied with the results of this quarter. And looking ahead, our top priorities are building our market shares, driving category growth and getting back to the trajectory to achieve our strategy 2020 targets. Those are the targets we shared with you last fall, on the Analyst Day, out here in Pleasanton.

So as we shared with you for several years now, we've looked at our growth strategy in terms of the financial algorithm which rolls up on our U.S. retail business, which represents about 75% of our business. Our Professional Products business, which makes up about 5% and then International, which contributes a little over 20% to overall sales. So, what I thought I'd is give you a look at how we anticipate each of those three legs of our business, contributing to sales growth in fiscal 2015.

So in U.S. retail, our 2020 goal that we laid out for you last fall was growth of 2% to 3% annually and in FY 2015. While, it will certainly be challenging to achieve that, particularly in the first half of the year, we believe we have the plans in place to grow near the low end of that range for the full-year.

In the U.S., as you all know, we face an intensely competitive environment and sluggish categories and the economy continues to be bumpy. Just noting the GDP being basically flat for the first quarter is testament to that.

Now, despite a March uptick in consumer optimism, confidence again dipped slightly in April with consumers reporting less optimism regarding current business and labor market conditions with a proportion of consumers anticipating a drop in income growth, given the increased payroll taxes now for more than the year, and certainly reductions in key government assistance programs like the SNAP program and concerns about healthcare costs

Now, for us, nothing is more important than probably restoring our U.S. market shares and growing our categories. And we're investing heavily to improve our consumer value propositions. So, here's what we're going to do, as we head into - as we are in the fourth quarter, and heading into FY 2015, our 3D brand-building execution is going to focus on harder hitting consumer communications that demonstrate visually and through messaging our superior value to drive desire. I think one testament to that is the new bleach advertising; I think many of you have seen.

Second, superior benefit-oriented packaging and competitive price points at the point of decide. I think an example of that is our new four-pack wipes package that is now out there, touting our benefits much more boldly.

And then lastly, consumer-preferred new product innovation with harder-hitting claims that demonstrate our superiority and would delight our consumers. You'll see new Burt's Bees lip crayons, for example, hitting this summer that are 100% natural.

And this - as I said, those are examples, and we think this approach is certainly working holistically on bleach as we shared with you last fall when we launched the fully integrated 3D plan. We wanted to reinforce the value of Clorox bleach and using innovation to differentiate our products versus private label. And I think you can see with our share results. I think they speak for themselves, having once again surpassed a 60% market share. We were at 60.6% for the quarter the past 13-week period, up nearly half a share point.

The 2020 goal for Professional Products is for 10% to 15% annual growth, and we anticipate this fast-growing business to have another strong year in fiscal 2015, to land within that annual growth range. We continue to believe there are certainly tailwinds in that space and we have a differentiated right to win there as we seek to grow our base business and organically expand through product and category adjacencies.

Now, in International, our 2020 goal that we communicated to all of you was annual growth of 5% to 7%. And in fiscal 2015, this is where we are most challenged because we face negative impacts from foreign currency in numerous markets, as Steve noted, most significantly in Argentina and Venezuela, along with certainly difficult operating environments in those two countries.

We're focusing on the things we can control there, such as preserving cash and reducing costs, while we work persistently with governments in both countries to secure meaningful price increases. And while we expect we can achieve the segment growth goal on a currency-neutral basis, our outlook reflects continued devaluation in both of those countries. It also assumes we'll be able to execute price increases at some level in Venezuela.

Now factoring in these impacts, we project a single-digit decline for our International business next fiscal year, which is the reason we're projecting to fall short of our annual 3% to 5% sales growth target as a company.

Apart from the difficulties in Argentina and Venezuela, our International business remains pretty healthy and we're executing well. We're seeing growth in many markets in and beyond Latin America and our Burt's Bees business outside the U.S. And I think that's why on a currency-neutral basis, we had almost double-digit growth in International.

Now to summarize, we're certainly facing some speed bumps in the year ahead and I believe we're being prudent in our assumptions regarding the headwinds we face. Importantly, we have strong plans in place to address them. First, as we noted, we're investing about one additional point of demand spending to support our brands and turn our market shares around and grow our categories. Nothing is more important and we are keenly focused on ensuring consumers understand the superior value our products offer.

Second, we believe in innovation. We remain committed to our goal for three points of growth from innovation next year. The August introduction of Fresh Step Extreme lightweight builds on the innovation we launched earlier this year, including the new wipes Steve mentioned, Clorox Smart Seeking bleach and Clorox Fraganzia bleach and more.

And third, we're driving improvements in productivity and administrative costs even with increased spending. And finally, we are certainly doing all we can to manage through the challenges in Argentina and Venezuela.

And with that, let's go to your questions.

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