P&G, Colgate-Palmolive: Costs Hit

CINCINNATI ( TheStreet) -- Procter & Gamble ( PG), Colgate-Palmolive ( CL) and Unilever ( UL) reported that higher commodity costs pressured their financial results in the recent quarter and will continue to do so throughout 2011.

P&G posted a weaker-than-expected 11% rise in fiscal third-quarter earnings, and the firm said commodity inflation led it to cut the high end of its 2011 forecast.
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Still, strong sales across its portfolio of consumer brands, and a tax benefit, led P&G's growth last quarter.

P&G said it expects costs to surge to $1.8 billion this fiscal year, about triple what it previously expected at the beginning of 2011. The firm said it would look to cut operational costs before passing higher costs onto consumers.

It now expects full-year core earnings-per-share in a range of $3.91 to $3.96. The upper end of its previous forecast was for earnings of $4.01 per share.

Smaller rival Colgate-Palmolive also reported that higher costs pressured its earnings last quarter, though the toothpaste and dishwashing liquid maker met analysts' profit expectations.

Colgate has passed some costs on to consumers of its bars of soap and certain other goods.

Unilever, maker of Dove soap and Hellmann's mayonnaise, also said it would look to cut operational costs to help offset rising material prices.

P&G shares rose 0.4% to $64.29 at midday Thursday while Colgate-Palmolive added 0.5% to $81.50. American depositary receipts of Unilever fell 1.8% to $32.89.

Uniliever now expects commodity costs to rise between 14% and 16%, up from its prior estimate of 11% to 13% announced in February. It hopes to cut 300 million euros ($440 million) in internal costs this year to offset those input prices.

Companies are looking to growth overseas in emerging markets like China and India as demand in the U.S. and Western Europe has been sluggish.

"We do believe economies are improving around the world," said P&G CEO Bob McDonald. "The rate of improvement in developed markets is obviously slower than we had originally forecasted."

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Mark Astrachan said P&G is "best positioned to outperform in the current environment given its innovation pipeline and deep pockets," referring to newly launched products like Tide Pods single-dose laundry detergent, which aim to lure customers with new products rather than simply raising prices.

"The consumer is struggling with higher gasoline prices and relatively fixed incomes, which is causing them to make choices," McDonald said on a conference call with analysts and consumers, adding that the company hopes to avoid price increases in some cases.

Rising commodity costs have pressured the results of a roster of companies across many sectors. Food and beverage chains like McDonald's ( MCD), Chipotle Mexican Grill ( CMG) and Starbucks ( SBUX), as well drink makers like Coca-Cola ( KO) and PepsiCo ( PEP), have all made similar statements about rising costs.

Consumer goods maker Kimberly-Clark ( KMB) cut its earnings forecast earlier this week and said it will raise prices again on a number of products this year as rising costs led it to miss quarterly profit expectations.

Kimberly-Clark now expects costs this year to be nearly double its previous expectations, and it cut its 2011 profit outlook by 10 cents per share. The maker of Huggies diapers and Kleenex tissues will once again look to pass on those higher costs to consumers. In March Kimberly-Clark said inflationary pressure from higher raw materials and energy costs led it to raise consumer prices on its Cottonelle and Scott bathroom tissue products as well as baby and child care products under the Huggies, Pull-Ups and GoodNites brands .

In the recent quarter, P&G posted a profit of $2.87 billion, or 96 cents per share, up from $2.59 billion, or 83 cents per share, in the year-earlier period.

Revenue rose 5% to $20.23 billion, driven by 5% volume growth, as well as favorable pricing and foreign exchange, partially offset by geographic and product mix.

Analysts were looking for a profit of 97 cents per share on revenue of $20.3 billion.

During the quarter P&G agreed to sell its Pringles potato chips brand to Diamond Foods ( DMND) for $1.5 billion worth of stock.

The divestiture came as Procter & Gamble looks to more closely focus its business on cosmetics and healthcare products.

Colgate-Palmolive earned $576 million, or $1.16 per share, up 61.3% from a year-earlier profit of $357 million, or 69 cents per share, when the company suffered a one-time charge of 52 cents per share from hyperinflation accounting in Venezuela.

Excluding the item, earnings fell 8%.

Net sales rose 4.5% to $4 billion thanks to increased pricing on its products.

Colgate-Palmolive reaffirmed its outlook for a mid-single-digit percentage rise in earnings per share for 2011.

Unilever, maker of Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Dove soaps, said overall sales in the recent quarter grew 7% to 10.9 billion euros ($15.98 billion).

It also agreed to raise its quarterly dividend by 8.2% to 0.2250 euros (33 cents) per share.

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-- Written by Miriam Marcus Reimer in New York.

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