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Clorox forecasts drop in annual sales as pandemic boom fades, shares fall

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Bottles of Clorox bleach are displayed for sale on the shelves of a Wal-Mart store in Rogers
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(Reuters) -Clorox Co signaled on Tuesday that the pandemic-driven boom in demand for its bleaches, wipes and other surface cleaners was fading due to vaccinations and easing COVID-19 curbs, sending its shares down 12%.

The company forecast fiscal 2022 sales to fall between 2% and 6%, while analysts expected a decline of 1%, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

Like Procter & Gamble Co and Britain's Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc, Clorox had benefited from consumers stockpiling cleaning products at the height of the pandemic last year.

But with the opening up of the economy, sales in its mainstay health and wellness unit slumped 17% in the fourth quarter. The household business, which makes Glad trash bags and Kingston charcoal, reported an 8% drop in sales.

"This was a poor quarter," said Edward Jones analyst John Boylan. He added that while the brokerage expected the first half to be difficult due to tough year-ago comparables, normalization of sales and profit would take longer than its initial estimations.

Clorox's results also took a hit from rising costs of raw materials, such as pulp, resin and petrochemical products, that have prompted companies across sectors to increase prices.

Despite a price hike earlier in 2021, its gross margins declined by 970 basis points to 37.1%. That, in part, pulled down its adjusted earnings to 95 cents per share, which missed expectations of $1.35 per share.

Total net sales fell to $1.80 billion from $1.98 billion, falling short of estimates of $1.92 billion.

(Reporting by Mehr Bedi in Bengaluru, Additional reporting by Siddharth Cavale; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Aditya Soni)