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Edited Transcript of KMB earnings conference call or presentation 22-Apr-20 2:00pm GMT

Q1 2020 Kimberly-Clark Corp Earnings Call

DALLAS Apr 28, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Kimberly-Clark Corp earnings conference call or presentation Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 2:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Maria G. Henry

Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Senior VP & CFO

* Michael D. Hsu

Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO

* Paul J. Alexander

Kimberly-Clark Corporation - VP of IR

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Conference Call Participants

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* Andrea Faria Teixeira

JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - MD

* Dara Warren Mohsenian

Morgan Stanley, Research Division - MD

* Jason M. English

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - VP

* Kevin Michael Grundy

Jefferies LLC, Research Division - Senior VP & Equity Analyst

* Lauren Rae Lieberman

Barclays Bank PLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst

* Nik Modi

RBC Capital Markets, Research Division - MD of Tobacco, Household Products and Beverages & Lead Consumer Staples Analyst

* Olivia Tong

BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Director

* Stephen Robert R. Powers

Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division - Research Analyst

* Steven A. Strycula

UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Equity Research Analyst

* Wendy Caroline Nicholson

Citigroup Inc, Research Division - MD & Head of Global Consumer Staples Research

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience and holding. We now have your presenters in conference. (Operator Instructions)

It is now my pleasure to introduce our first presenter, Mr. Paul Alexander. Please go ahead, sir.

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Paul J. Alexander, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - VP of IR [2]

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Thank you, and good morning, everyone. Welcome to Kimberly-Clark's first quarter earnings conference call. Today, you'll hear from Mike Hsu, our Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; and Maria Henry, our CFO. We have a presentation of today's materials in the Investors section of our website.

As a reminder, we will be making forward-looking statements today. Please see the Risk Factors section of our latest quarterly report on Form 10-Q and our annual report on Form 10-K for further discussion of forward-looking statements.

Lastly, we'll be referring to adjusted results, which exclude certain items described in this morning's news release. That release has further information about these adjustments and reconciliations to comparable GAAP financial measures.

Now I'll turn the call over to Mike.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [3]

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Thank you, Paul. Good morning, everyone. We joined you today during an unprecedented time, and we hope all our stakeholders are staying healthy and safe. The COVID-19 crisis is severely affecting individuals and society at large, and it's forcing companies like ours to adapt to overcome near-term operating challenges and uncertainty. Kimberly-Clark's vision is to provide the world with essentials for a better life, and we know our consumers are counting on us now more than ever to fulfill that vision. We take this responsibility seriously, and our teams are working around the clock to ensure our essential products get to our consumers who depend on us.

The K-C Foundation and our brands have launched programs to support COVID-19 relief efforts. And thus far, we provided donations of more than $8 million to organizations, including UNICEF, the Red Cross and the United Way. We're also donating millions and millions of our products to other organizations in need.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we've taken decisive action to manage our business effectively through this crisis. We have 3 key operating priorities. Priority number one, protect the health and safety of our employees and our consumers. Throughout our 148-year history, this has never been more important than right now. We've taken aggressive action to protect our employees around the world no matter where they work. That includes implementing extensive sanitization, quarantine and social distance protocols in our manufacturing facilities, work-from-home policies and of course, travel restrictions. We're also recognizing our manufacturing employees with well-deserved bonuses and appreciation of their efforts.

Priority number two, proactively manage our global supply chain to ensure supply of our essential products to our consumers. Our supply chain teams are meeting multiple times each day to effectively navigate the dynamic environment. They're doing a great job in keeping our global supply chain largely operational, in many cases, delivering record output. We're running our assets flat out and greatly simplifying our assortment to improve product availability. We're working with raw material suppliers and distribution partners to ensure continuity and maximize deliveries. In some cases, we are incurring additional costs to keep the supply chain rolling. We have experienced some disruption, including temporary manufacturing slowdowns and shutdowns, but none have had material impact to date. The supply chain environment is dynamic, and we expect ongoing challenges in the near term. However, we're encouraged with our team's ability thus far to manage effectively in the current environment.

Priority number three, prudently manage the business through near-term volatility while continuing to strengthen the long-term health of Kimberly-Clark. We'll continue to operate with a balanced perspective on both the top and bottom line as we assess both risk and opportunity. We'll continue to invest in our products, our brands and our commercial capabilities to maintain the near-term health of our business and position us for long-term success. That said, some investment in brand support, including promotion activity, will be deferred temporarily because it isn't effective or appropriate in the current environment.

We'll also manage our discretionary overhead even more tightly. And as Maria will describe, we've taken additional steps to further strengthen our balance sheet and enhance our financial flexibility.

While the environment continues to evolve rapidly, our teams are managing our priorities and our business well. I'm extremely proud of our entire K-C team and want to express sincere thanks for how they are fulfilling our vision.

Maria will take you through the results of the quarter. But as you can see from the release, we're performing well, have a strong balance sheet and are delivering solid cash flow.

In a few minutes, I'll discuss the outlook and then open the call for your questions. But for now, I'll turn it over to Maria.

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Maria G. Henry, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Senior VP & CFO [4]

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Thanks, Mike, and good morning, everyone. First, let me echo my comments and say that I hope everyone is staying healthy and safe during this global health crisis. I'd also like to thank our 40,000 employees for their incredible actions during this time period. I've never been more proud to work at this great company.

How we're managing through this crisis is, of course, the most important thing right now, but I do want to spend a few minutes reviewing our results. Overall, first quarter results reflect both significant volume increases from consumer stock-up as well as excellent execution by our teams. We generated strong cash flow and further strengthened our balance sheet. In addition, we continue to invest more in our business, and our market share positions are in good shape.

Let me cover some of the details of our results. First quarter net sales were $5 billion. That's up 8% year-on-year. Organic sales increased 11%, while currencies were a 2-point drag. Volumes were up 8%, including significant shipments to support consumer stock-up related to the COVID-19 outbreak. That stock-up occurred in all major geographies and benefited all 3 business segments, in particular, consumer tissue. In addition, we were off to an excellent start to the year prior to the outbreak with good performance in several areas. That included premium-tier Huggies Diapers and adult care in North America, personal care in Asia broadly, including China, and also in Eastern Europe.

Net selling prices in the quarter were up 1% driven by increases taken last year. Overall, the pricing and promotion environment remained broadly constructive in the first quarter. Product mix improved 1%, reflecting our strategies to elevate our categories and drive trade-up.

Let me pause here and touch briefly on our market share positions. In North American consumer products, our first quarter market shares were up or even in 5 of 8 categories year-on-year and up or even in 6 of 8 categories sequentially. In key D&E markets in personal care, market shares were up or even year-on-year in Eastern Europe, in China and in most categories in Brazil. Shares were down in some other countries in Latin America, including Peru, although our position there was stable sequentially. Overall, our market shares are broadly healthy, which is a good place to be in this environment.

Turning back to the financials. First quarter adjusted gross margin was 37.2%, up 370 basis points year-on-year. Adjusted gross profit increased 20%. We had a strong quarter on cost savings with total savings of $125 million from our FORCE and restructuring programs. Commodities were a benefit of $115 million, somewhat better than we expected. Other manufacturing costs were higher year-on-year. Foreign currencies were somewhat worse than we expected and reduced operating profit at a high single-digit rate.

Between-the-lines spending was up 100 basis points as a percent of net sales, including a nice step-up in advertising spending. Adjusted operating margin was 19.9%, up 250 basis points. And adjusted operating profit grew 24%.

The bottom line also benefited from a slightly lower tax rate, higher equity income and a lower share count. All in all, first quarter adjusted earnings per share were $2.13, up 28%.

Now let's turn to cash flow, restructuring and the balance sheet. Cash provided by operations was strong at $704 million compared to a soft quarter last year of $317 million. The year-on-year increase was driven by higher earnings and improved working capital. Capital spending was $352 million in the quarter, including significant activity related to our restructuring.

Looking ahead, some of our near-term capital projects and restructuring activities will be temporarily delayed or reprioritized because of the complexities of managing in the current environment. We now expect that charges for our restructuring program will continue into 2021 rather than wrapping up at the end of this year. We also expect the charges for the total program will be towards the high end of our previous estimate. We expect that total restructuring savings will be consistent with our previous estimate, although it is possible that we won't hit our full target until sometime in 2022.

On capital allocation, first quarter dividends and share repurchases totaled approximately $575 million.

We are prudently managing and further strengthening our already strong balance sheet and liquidity position in this environment, and our liquidity overall remains robust. It is also our intention to maintain our A credit rating through this temporary period of uncertainty.

We executed 2 long-term debt transactions in the quarter. The first was a $500 million, 30-year bond offering that essentially pre-funded the $500 million of notes that will come due in August. In late March, we executed a second transaction, this one, a $750 million, 10-year bond offering. That transaction enhanced our overall liquidity and flexibility and reduced our near-term need for commercial paper. We also continue to maintain 2 revolving credit facilities totaling $2.75 billion that we've never drawn upon.

We're also temporarily suspending our share repurchase program for at least the remainder of the second quarter to provide additional flexibility. We'll continue to monitor the uncertainty in the environment, and we'll give you another update on share repurchases in July. Longer term, there has been no change in our capital allocation strategies.

I'll finish with some perspectives on the currency and commodity markets. We originally expected that currencies would reduce our net sales by 1 point this year. Using first quarter actuals and forward rates at the end of March, the headwind would be approximately 4% and rates remain volatile on a daily basis.

For your benefit, on a historical basis, the currency impact on our operating profit, taking into account both translation and transaction effects, has typically been 2 to 3x the impact on our sales. In addition, our equity affiliate, K-C de Mexico, is facing many of the same uncertainties that we are, including a much weaker Mexican peso.

Improving net realized revenue remains one of our strategies to offset currency headwinds. However, in this environment, much of new incremental price realization will occur -- how much -- I'm sorry, much incremental price realization will occur in the near term is more uncertain than normal.

On the commodity front, forward-looking trends look favorable, although markets remain volatile, and as usual, cost changes could impact the promotion environment. Raw material markets that can be influenced by oil, including resin, have started to move down some recently, although much less than the decline in oil. And where oil goes from here is certainly unclear. On pulp, recent industry forecast for North America eucalyptus market prices are in the lower half of the range we used to set our full year plan in January, which was $900 to $975 per metric ton.

So all in all, I'm encouraged by our execution in the quarter. And our balance sheet, our business fundamentals and our financial health are all strong.

I'll now hand it back to Mike.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [5]

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Okay. Thank you, Maria. Now I'll provide some forward-looking perspective. We're focused on ensuring business continuity, and we're developing robust contingency plans to address a wide range of scenarios. I feel good about where we stand right now, but we're navigating a very dynamic environment. Due to the lack of visibility and uncertainty about the potential impact of that pandemic, including its potential effects on the global economy, our markets and our supply chain, we're temporarily suspending our forward-looking guidance. Now as the situation progresses and we get more visibility into the impact of the pandemic, we will resume guidance.

To date, our teams have done an excellent job navigating through the volatility. However, the inherent unpredictability of the pandemic creates uncertainty, and that makes it difficult for us to assess future outcomes with any precision.

In addition to volatility in currency, commodities and supply chain, there are effects on demand, and I'll share some perspective on that right now.

Our essential categories have historically performed well in times of economic turbulence. In consumer, our underlying momentum is solid, and we're making strong progress on our strategic growth initiatives. We'll continue to support our brands with innovation and marketing. Near-term innovation launches include upgrades in Huggies in China, North America and Brazil; Kotex in Eastern Europe; and Poise and Depend in North America.

Consumption in the first quarter ran ahead of shipments. And as a result, we expect retailers will rebuild inventory and that we'll see additional volume in the second quarter. And we're seeing that play out thus far in April. We expect most, but not all, of the demand increase from consumer stock-up will reverse out later in the year. However, with more people at home and also paying closer attention to personal hygiene, it's likely that consumer tissue consumption will be higher during shelter-in-place periods.

We're also closely monitoring pandemic and economic conditions in D&E markets, including Latin America, and evaluating how that could impact the health of our consumers and our categories.

Now shifting to K-C Professional. Demand was solid in the first quarter and boosted by stock-up activity that occurred in March. Given the economic shock that's occurred and with much of the population staying at home, KCP is likely to face volume declines starting in the second quarter that will persist until economic conditions return to more "normal levels." We're seeing early signs of that softness thus far in April. Impacted end markets are likely to include, obviously, offices, travel and lodging, high-traffic accounts, including retail and manufacturing.

Now I'd like to conclude with a few important messages. First, we're very confident in the strength, the resilience and the overall health of our company. We're navigating near-term uncertainty well and appreciate the commitment of our K-C strong team. We're managing prudently in the near term and strongly believe in our ability to create long-term shareholder value.

And that concludes our prepared remarks, and we'd be happy to take your questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) Our first question comes from Lauren Lieberman with Barclays.

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Lauren Rae Lieberman, Barclays Bank PLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [2]

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So 2 different things. One was first on K-C Professional. Just hoping, definitely a lot of people are looking to understand better sort of the mix of that business, kind of how much exposure is roughly, let's call it, hospitality versus office versus manufacturing, number one. Number two, kind of what your market shares are in K-C Professional versus in the consumer market. And then three, also thinking about the exposure there to more of the cleaning product side of things, the wipers business, some of the safety businesses that you have in there. If you could talk a little bit about that, I think it'd be very helpful, too.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [3]

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Yes. Thanks, Lauren. And I'll point out, Paul, Maria and I were all in remote locations or separate locations, so this may be a little clunky, and we may need to do logistics over the phone. But Lauren, but regarding your question, overall, we do expect some near-term volume decline in K-C Professional. However, I will say there's a long-term opportunity to serve in a very important need as creating healthier workplaces, and focus on hygiene becomes more important going forward.

However, in the short term, I would say the majority of our business is the washroom business. That's the largest part of our business, overall, more than half of our business. And we expect that to be hit particularly hard by what I just mentioned, offices, which our early data shows that office use is down about 80% where we can see that data through our Onvation products.

Travel and lodging, significantly down. I think hotel occupancy is the latest data we saw. We're at 21% of capacity. And amazingly, ceded restaurant traffic was down 100% globally in the latest weeks that we could see, so there will be an impact there. But I will say we will see commensurate or increases in our wipers business, our safety business, which does provide some PPE, and we're ready to make that pivot and actually believe that we can do a better job helping employers create healthier workplaces.

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Lauren Rae Lieberman, Barclays Bank PLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [4]

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And then right now, in that wipers and safety business, I think on the KCP website, you sort of talked about, "We're doing our best to keep up with demand." So can you just tell us a little bit about -- I think just be educational for people, what those PPE products are, if you are currently running full out on those businesses, and what growth looks like there? Because again, I'm just trying to fit together that order of magnitude of K-C Professional being down in the second quarter makes perfect sense, but how much, right? And we can all -- if you give us the tools, we can try to come up with estimates on our own of what that looks like.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [5]

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Yes. I may ask Paul to jump in, but I will say maybe the bigger part of the business that we feel like we can expand right now is on the wipers side, and that's a great business for us and strong performing, and we're seeing that commensurate increase starting to come through now. On the safety side, it is a relatively small business for us. We don't produce any of the PPE masks or gloves directly. We have those co-packed. And so we are in a tight supply situation as everybody else in the world has. And so we expect that to grow over time. But in the near term, we're in a tight supply situation.

Paul, anything to add there?

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Paul J. Alexander, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - VP of IR [6]

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Yes. Thanks, Mike. So Lauren and for everyone on the call, just to level set on KCP's rough product exposure, about 65% is tissue-based products, about 20% is wipers, and then about 10% is -- are these safety and scientific products that Mike mentioned. The safety and scientific products are primarily apparel and gloves with a little bit of eyewear as well. Masks are an insignificant part of the business.

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Lauren Rae Lieberman, Barclays Bank PLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [7]

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Okay. Great. And then switching gears to being a bit more strategic and longer term. The mix -- personal care mix, I think, was up 3% for D&E market, which was really sort of a notable number. And I was just hoping if you could talk a little bit about where that's coming from, referring back to the goal to elevate the categories, bring innovation. So it just seems like there was sort of a step change in that happening in the D&E markets on personal care. So anything that you can offer there would be great.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [8]

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Yes. Thank you, Lauren. And first of all, I'll say we remain committed to our K-C 2022 Strategy. And that strategy is working very well. As Maria said, we felt like we got off to a very good start at the beginning of the quarter, and then we saw the pronounced stock-up effect that started occurring toward the end of March. So we're very excited about our innovation and commercial programming and think there's a lot of opportunity for us to continue to elevate our categories and also expand our markets or expand the categories in our markets as well.

Maybe some of the big pockets, China, notably, I think that really, the team there is doing an excellent job navigating both COVID-19 and delivering strong growth at the same time. We were out, and the country was down or the -- our business and our manufacturing was down for about 3 weeks. January, February, they were the first ones, obviously, to feel the effects. And -- but we've been fully online since. Organic was up low double digits in the quarter for China overall with strong double-digit growth in femcare and mid-single-digit growth in diapers. And the important thing about diapers is -- and I'm very encouraged by the trend -- is I do believe the category is reverting back to competing on product performance, and we feel like we're well positioned. We saw a share -- strong share growth in the premium tiers and strong volume growth in the premium tiers. Still down a bit in value, but we're managing through that.

Similarly, D&E in Central and Eastern Europe was up high teens. Brazil was up, I think, low double digits as well. So we're seeing very good performance across our D&E markets. Notably, Lauren, I also would tell you, there was much less stock-up behavior in the D&E market. So the China team would say there was none in our categories. I do think in Brazil, we saw a little bit in consumer tissue.

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Operator [9]

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Our next question comes from Dara Mohsenian with Morgan Stanley.

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Dara Warren Mohsenian, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - MD [10]

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I hope you're all well. So Mike, can you just run us through a little more of the decision to pull full year guidance and suspend the share repurchases at least in Q2? I was just looking for a bit more clarity there. Is it more just that the external environment is still unknown at this point that it doesn't make sense to have guidance? Or is there something specific internally as you look at the balance of the year that's causing concern versus the prior guidance? Obviously, we understand the consumer pantry deload, which you mentioned. So not all of that Q1 upside sort of flows through. But just trying to understand, given you seem to have a pretty defensive portfolio on the EPS outlook side, what drove that decision. And then also with repurchases, you obviously seem to be in a pretty strong liquidity position. So just trying to understand the motivation behind that.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [11]

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Yes. Dara, it's a great question. It's definitely the former. I think, obviously, to date, our performance has been strong. We feel very good about that. We feel confident in our ability to manage in the current environment. However, I think there are a lot of unknowns. And it's -- as I said in my remarks, it really has to do with what the future path of the virus takes and what the commensurate impact is going to be.

But maybe I'll let Maria comment on maybe both the outlook and also what we're doing with share repurchase and all that. And then maybe I'll come back with some additional perspective at the end.

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Maria G. Henry, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Senior VP & CFO [12]

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Sure. On the guidance, our business is performing well. And we're confident in our strategy and our plans, but the volatility and uncertainty in this environment is meaningful. And nobody really knows at this point what will happen with the COVID-19 infection rate. I'm sure as you have, we've been reading all kinds of epidemiological studies and looking at models and talking to outside folks to try to get some perspective on it. But the numbers range anywhere from 1% to 4% infection rate to north of 50%. And it's just nobody really knows what this has in store for us and what the impacts will be.

And as we think about that and model various scenarios for our business, an increased infection rate could potentially affect our supply chain, including worker availability, availability of supply, the depth and the length of the recession caused by the virus is unknown at this point. The length and significant impacts of social distancing, we don't know how long that will last post-peak, and that obviously affects the outlook for our professional business. And then currency and commodities have been very volatile.

So with all of that, there's a wide range of scenarios that are potential here. And given that and the lack of certainty around any of those scenarios means we can't confidently provide you with an expected range for 2020 at this point. But we'll continue to monitor the environment. When it stabilizes, we'll be in a better position to provide forward-looking guidance consistent with our past practices.

The same factors that led us to pull the guidance for the year weighed in on suspending buybacks. It's for all the same reasons. As you said, we are in a very strong liquidity position. I mentioned some of the stats in my prepared remarks. The suspension of the buybacks is really in line with the fact that overall, we're prudently managing the business given the heightened level of uncertainty right now. We'll continue to monitor that quarter-by-quarter. We'll have more to say to you in July when, hopefully, we have more visibility, both for the outlook for the year, what that could mean for our P&L and our cash flows.

So I'd sum it up by saying we are prudently managing overall the company in this period of uncertainty, and that affects both our view on guidance and our view on the temporary suspension, at least through the second quarter on our buyback program.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [13]

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Yes. Dara, I'll pile on, which is I think we are definitely encouraged by our start, even this tough environment notwithstanding. I think we're managing through this uncertainty effectively. As Maria mentioned, in our jobs, I don't think we ever felt like we would be arguing over epidemiological models, and we are. And we're working through -- actually through 11 of them, and they all have different assumptions. And now while that makes it difficult for us to call the business for this purpose, I will tell you, from an operating perspective, we are using those models to predict the outcomes to drive scenario planning and contingency plans for all of our operations around the world. And so we've got a great team, global team managing the COVID-19 crisis for us and very thorough in terms of how we're thinking about it and very proactive about how we're applying learnings to how we take care of our employees and our consumers and keep operations rolling.

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Dara Warren Mohsenian, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - MD [14]

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Great. That's helpful. And then if I can ask one other question. Just the promotional environment, you mentioned a pullback in promotion. It's -- obviously, there's a lot of traffic at stores, and consumers aren't exactly price shopping as much right now. But as you look forward to the back half of the year when, theoretically, the social distancing restrictions end, curious for your thoughts on the promotional environment. On the one hand, some of this consumer behavior probably lingers. On the other hand, assuming there's a consumer pantry deload, the volume situation is going to be tougher from a manufacturer standpoint. So just curious for your perspective on if this lower level of promotion is sticky or not or if there could be some ramp-up as we look to the back half of the year. And then also, in emerging markets, with the FX pressure that you mentioned, would you anticipate pricing some of that away as you look out? Or is the consumer environment likely to limit the ability to take pricing in emerging markets?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [15]

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Yes. Yes. Dara, I think philosophically, I think we -- again, I think I mentioned on the call last time, we prefer taking the high road, which is build markets and brands through innovation and advertising and grow the category overall. I'm not a huge fan of overpromoting categories. That said, we are seeing a reduction in promotions, mostly because demand is running ahead of supply. And so it doesn't make sense to be promoting when the shelves are not full at this point. So we are seeing some pare back. I would expect us to be in that kind of environment for the -- into the second quarter.

I think there will be a recessionary impact. Obviously, I think it will be pretty significant and maybe among the largest that we've seen in recent history. While consumers, I think, become more interested in value in those times, I'm not necessarily certain that, that drives us to an aggressively promoted environment. I wasn't here at the time, but I was managing a business that competed in the food categories. And the strategy was not promotion. It was more about explaining to consumers about the value of the products and the value of the brands. And in that business, we saw our best years during the recession.

So I think we're well positioned for the recession. We're not a premium niche player, even though premiumization is our core strategy. We're not a niche player in premium. We cover most tiers, and we're happy we do that. And we want to serve consumers and meet consumers where their needs are, and we're going to do that.

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Dara Warren Mohsenian, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - MD [16]

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Great. That's helpful. And any color on emerging markets? Any more detail there on the strategies in emerging markets from a pricing perspective?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [17]

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Yes. I think in some cases, we will price and we have priced already to recover or offset some of the FX issues. Although in some markets, like notably in Latin America, we are seeing more price controls put into place in the short term, given what's been going on with the pandemic. So -- but in general, we're -- we will be taking price in some markets, and we have already done that.

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Operator [18]

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Our next question comes from Nik Modi with RBC Capital Markets.

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Nik Modi, RBC Capital Markets, Research Division - MD of Tobacco, Household Products and Beverages & Lead Consumer Staples Analyst [19]

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Mike, I'm just curious how the current situation has made you maybe possibly rethink future engines of growth for Kimberly-Clark. And I ask this against the backdrop of Jeff Melucci taking over the responsibility to lead the business development team given his background in M&A. So any thoughts on -- I mean, obviously, there are a lot of different categories that are showing their colors right now in terms of accelerated growth. Some of that would fit probably well with your portfolio over time. You have a good balance sheet. Asset prices are likely to get cheaper. So any context around that would be helpful.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [20]

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Yes, Nik. Yes. We -- we're committed to our K-C 2022 Strategy. We love our categories. I think there's a lot of potential there, both in terms of how we elevate and premiumize our existing markets and also how we develop our markets and expand the categories in our markets over time. So for those reasons, we remain very excited about the strategy, and I think it's working.

I think maybe with the current situation with the pandemic, if it does create more opportunity or other opportunities for us to think about how we accelerate that, we're going to look at those. I can't tell you there's anything active on that radar right now, but Jeff is very experienced. As Maria always says every quarter, we're always actively looking at M&A. Certainly, I think our focus would be within our existing categories. And if it had a -- either a technology or a product or a brand that fit in very well or a geography or brought us into a geography or strengthen the position in the geography, that we would be very excited about it, but at the right value. And obviously, we're very disciplined. But we'll continue to look for those opportunities, and Jeff's very experienced.

Maria, anything to add there?

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Maria G. Henry, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Senior VP & CFO [21]

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No. No. Well said.

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Nik Modi, RBC Capital Markets, Research Division - MD of Tobacco, Household Products and Beverages & Lead Consumer Staples Analyst [22]

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And then maybe, Maria, this one is for you. Or Mike, if you want to address it. I know you're not giving guidance. Obviously, it makes sense. But how should we think about pantry deloading? Because clearly, I mean, we saw what was going on in March, people loading up on a lot of your products. I know people are staying home more, but it's hard for me to imagine they're using it at the rate at which they are buying it. So how should we think about that? And I'm just trying to think about how we can think about the consumers actually coming back and buying on a normal purchasing cycle maybe 2 months from now or 3 months from now. So how do you guys think about that?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [23]

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Yes. Yes. I'll start maybe and Maria. But the -- there will be a destock, right? So there was consumer pantry stocking. It definitely went into homes and not at retail. And I think there's maybe 2 effects, which is, one, we -- and I mentioned this in my remarks, we still will -- with consumption running so far ahead of shipments, we will be looking to rebuild inventory or our customers will be looking to rebuild inventory in their systems. I also think, in general, consumers will want to carry a bit more inventory on their own. So that's the second effect. So while there will be, I think, significant destocking, I think it will be lumpy.

And the other reason why it'd be lumpy is I don't think the stocking occurred evenly across our consumers, meaning it would be very easy to predict if every household bought 30% more. But I think what's happened is it's a fraction of households that have it. And so we will continue to, I think, see some households will be looking to build up their inventory or get their hands on more product, while others will be destocking. And for that reason, it's going to be a little more challenging to call, and we're still working and sifting through the data there.

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Operator [24]

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Our next question comes from Olivia Tong with Bank of America.

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Olivia Tong, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Director [25]

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So a couple of questions around navigating these huge swings in demand. You mentioned you obviously didn't see much stock-up yet in emerging markets, and there's just frankly probably not a lot of room to do that. So what are you planning for? Are you trying to run more capacity right now? Are they getting more in store? Like what changes have happened as you -- as the virus shifts there? And then secondly, just overarchingly, what changes are you making along the supply chain to drive production right now while also not overextending yourself? And then the reverse for professional, what are you doing to keep those facilities productive? And how much repurposing can you do there?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [26]

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Yes. Yes. Olivia, I'll tell you, our supply chain is executing very well, and they've had a very disciplined approach to managing through the COVID-19. We've had a few sporadic outages that I mentioned. But really, the focus right now is on increasing and driving our utilization and our throughput. And in general, I think I mentioned in my remarks that in a lot of cases, we're achieving record output.

What we've really done is significantly pared back the number of SKUs we are producing. Just -- we're just producing the large-volume SKUs, and that's given us more theoretical capacity, and we're getting more output out than we ever had in a lot of locations. And so right now, that is the focus. And I will say, it's working. And I think you'll see us catch up to demand in the second quarter and made progress during the second quarter.

Sorry, I missed -- probably the other part was around KCP?

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Olivia Tong, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Director [27]

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Correct. Yes.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [28]

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Yes. As we finished the first quarter with the demand that we saw in KCP, KCP was also running flat out as well. I think at some point, given kind of the relative shift, lower demand in professional, as we mentioned, and also increased demand on the consumer side, there will be an opportunity for us to shift some capacity to consumer, and we're looking into that and working through that now.

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Olivia Tong, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Director [29]

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That's helpful. And then just on profit and margin as we go forward, 2 areas, just savings realization and advertising. Advertising business savings from FORCE actually accelerated pretty dramatically. And I assume a lot of that was related to obviously the sales surge and the leverage there. So as you think about the go forward, how have your expectations of savings changed? Does it come in from here as sales normalize? Or are there incremental actions that you're taking? Because it sounds like you're pushing some of those projects out. So just your view on savings opportunity going forward. And then on advertising, you mentioned you raised advertising in Q1. I assume that's pre-COVID, and that comes off of a big increase in Q4 as well. So just if you could update us on your view on advertising against this backdrop.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [30]

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Yes. Maybe I'll make the comment on the advertising and maybe ask Maria to talk a little bit more about the savings. But one, the headline, Olivia, is we're going to continue to invest in our brands and our capability to grow the business. But we're going to just defer what I would say is the -- maybe the clearly demand-generating marketing in the second quarter or parts of the second quarter until we have a better handle on and catch up a little bit to fulfilling the existing demand that's out there.

So we feel really good about the quality of the innovation, the quality of our marketing. We're excited about the plans that we have this year. But as I mentioned, it doesn't make sense to overpromote a category where there's not the full stock available on the shelf. And so for that reason, we're going to focus on ROI. If this doesn't drive a big return, we will pare it back. But to us, right now, it's a temporary shift, and we want to continue to invest in the brands. Maria?

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Maria G. Henry, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Senior VP & CFO [31]

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Great. And on the cost savings side on FORCE, I'll start there. We had a good quarter with FORCE. It was in line with our expectations, and we drove savings across all levers of that program. One of the noticeable things in the first quarter delivery is on our negotiated material price savings. Those are back in line with what they were historically. As you remember, in 2019, those were lower than normal for reasons we've talked about extensively throughout last year. So good savings quarter on FORCE at $100 million. That also compares to a light first quarter of FORCE savings in the first quarter of last year, as you recall, as we were working through some cost issues in our supply chain in North America.

When I look forward, we should have a good full year outcome with our FORCE savings. Although where we actually end up on that lever is less of a priority right now than it would be in normal times, given all of the complexities that our supply chain is working through. Clearly, the focus of the teams in our supply chain is producing product and getting that out to market to fulfill consumer demand and customer orders. And so how all of that plays out for FORCE for the year, we will have to see.

In terms of the restructuring program, we did continue to make good progress on the restructuring program overall. We do expect delays on the implementation of some of the activity there, which is related directly to the impacts of the COVID-19 situation. If you think about that, there are travel restrictions, as we all know, so we really can't get the people that we need to get to the places that we need to get them. As you can imagine, we've got very experienced engineering teams both in-house and with third parties that we work with. And right now, those people cannot travel and therefore, we're experiencing project delays. And the other factor there is, as I mentioned a minute ago, our supply chain teams are absolutely flat out trying to meet the surge in demand for our products.

And so all of that's leading to delays on the restructuring. We are working hard to have those delays go away. But when they'll go away and when we can get back into full swing on those projects in our supply chain is currently unknown. So how the restructuring savings will play out for 2020, I can't tell you this at this point, but that's where we are.

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Operator [32]

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Our next question comes from Andrea Teixeira with JPMorgan.

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Andrea Faria Teixeira, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - MD [33]

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I hope all is well. So a follow-up on the consumption against shipments. Internationally, you mentioned some of the stock-up in Western Europe and Brazil tissue but not much elsewhere. So are you likely just catching up with consumption and stock-up in most places? And have you seen growth in diapers, for example, in South Korea in April? Because I'm assuming there is not much of a stockpiling there because they're early to get the impact. And because they're very developed in e-commerce, perhaps that was fulfilled as they were going through the social distancing. And on e-commerce, how much did you grow this quarter globally? And how much it represents for you at this point?

And just a couple of clarifications. Maria, do you expect gross margin to continue to expand as we saw in the first quarter, in particular, as commodities are coming in even better than anticipated and the mix will likely shift from tissue to diapers? So I'm assuming that's going to be a benefit for your margin. And some of the other -- sorry, the 3 parts of the question that you pivot -- as you pivot some of the KCP production of paper into consumer tissue, which is obviously a great competitive advantage at this point, how much is your production capacity in tissue likely increasing with this initiative and also the simplification of SKUs?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [34]

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Yes. Maybe I'll start -- I'll tick through. I think the consumption effect -- yes, largely, the stock-up effect, Andrea, was largely a D&E -- sorry, a developed market phenomenon, so North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Korea, to some extent. In Korea that you probed on, yes, I would say less so in personal care, although I think there was some small effect. We definitely saw -- we're excited to see improved diaper performance from our business and share growth in our diaper business. So even though I think the category trends remain down in Korea on infant and child care, our diaper business put up very solid growth. And then we did see earlier, it occurred more in February, some stock-up behavior in consumer tissue in Korea as well. So -- but in general, yes, significant stock-up impact in -- across Western Europe, including the U.K. and North America, a little bit in Brazil and then Korea, New Zealand -- Australia and New Zealand.

With regard to e-commerce, I'll ask Paul for it if he has an all-up number. I don't have the all-up number. I will tell you, e-commerce shipments and demand dramatically accelerated in the quarter. And if you've been reading the news, the consumer behavior has shifted to some degree pretty aggressively because of people not wanting to go out to stores. And so we're feeling that in our business.

And I don't know, Paul, if you have -- I don't have the overall number.

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Paul J. Alexander, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - VP of IR [35]

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Yes. So a couple of things for you, Andrea. Globally, e-commerce would be a low double-digit percentage of our sales. It was up very strong double digits in the 3 biggest markets, so that would be China, South Korea and the U.S. All of those markets accelerated compared to where they were last year. We actually don't have a global total just yet given that we're still early in the year. But I can confidently say in total, it accelerated meaningfully.

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Maria G. Henry, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Senior VP & CFO [36]

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And I'll go ahead and comment on gross margin. Our gross margins were up 370 basis points year-on-year, and they were up 120 basis points sequentially in the first quarter. And the drivers around gross margin included the volume upside, the continued price realization that we talked about, our cost savings and the commodity deflation that we had in the quarter that was offset to some extent by currencies. And if I look forward, commodities are trending better than we expected coming into the year, and we provided the updated outlook on eucalyptus in the prepared comments. But currencies are trending worse also, as we discussed.

And on the price point there, our net realized revenue or pricing lever is a key lever for us to help offset the negative impacts of currency in a typical environment. However, our ability to get price in the near term is more uncertain than normal. And that uncertainty is around the economic health of the consumer. If you think about Latin America, in particular, that's a clear risk. In this environment, there are potential societal and political uneasiness around taking price and increasing our price on some of our products during these times.

And finally, a lot of currency challenges came from developed markets internationally. And in general, it's more difficult for us to raise prices in those countries. So how the effects of those 3 major factors that affect our gross margin will play out for the year, we'll have to see.

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Andrea Faria Teixeira, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - MD [37]

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That is super helpful. Just on the follow-up on the capacity from KCP, is that something that will increase your tissue capacity by 20%? Or should we expect that to be material for -- besides your SKU rationalization, your throughput increase? How should we be thinking about tissue going forward?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [38]

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Yes. Maybe I'll ask Paul to jump in. I think we're still working through that. I mean we definitely have the opportunity to shift some capacity. I don't know that I can pencil a number next to it.

But Paul, I don't know if you thought about...

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Paul J. Alexander, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - VP of IR [39]

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Yes. I mean I would just add that it's not as simple as making decision and then go do it. There's a lot that will be involved if we do this, including different tissue technologies between the 2 business segments. So I think that for right now, the message is we're taking a look at it. And we'll -- if there's an opportunity, we're certainly going to go after it. It had no impact on the first quarter, though.

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Operator [40]

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Our next question comes from Jason English with Goldman Sachs.

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Jason M. English, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - VP [41]

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A couple of quick questions. First, Michael, you mentioned some of the headwinds that you expect KCP to face going forward. I guess my question is, why was it doing so well in the first quarter? You mentioned it was running flat out. What was driving the strength? And do we have inventory issues to be cognizant about in that business right now?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [42]

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Yes. On that one, I -- we did see a stock-up effect on anything bath tissue. And so -- and we're not exactly sure at this point. I think a lot of it went through to end users and a lot of it went to distributors as well. But there was some pull-through toward -- as we got toward the -- late in the quarter, particularly on washroom products, so strong demand. Again, we obviously expect that to diminish as we move into the second quarter.

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Jason M. English, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - VP [43]

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Okay. And then I totally get the idea of some of this demand spike being stock-up likely to reverse, particularly on personal care where it's easy to understand that usage occasions don't really grow. I'm not convinced on the consumer tissue side yet, though. Can you give me a sense of how many usage occasions typically happen, in-home versus out-of-home if you know that, if you know that statistic?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [44]

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Well, I don't have that off the top of my head, but I definitely -- where -- your line of thinking I agree with, which is, look, consumers are going to be home more. And so there's many more occasions for them to interact with our brands than they traditionally would have. The other thing is, it's kind of the KCP to consumer shift is an apples-and-oranges shift in the sense of KCP, the big horse products tend to be towels. And on the consumer side, the big horse tends to be bath tissue. And so there is a shift effect. Obviously, I think we have a good position in bath tissue on the consumer side that we like, and we're going to be ready to meet the consumers where they need us here.

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Jason M. English, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - VP [45]

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No. Totally. I get it's apples and oranges for you, but not for the industry. It's hard to imagine that we aren't seeing an actual at-home consumer tissue consumption up at least 14%. I mean it's -- arguably, you could make an argument that it should be up 50%, and that would be real demand, not just stockpiling.

But a different but somewhat related question, you mentioned you're trying to divert some capacity of KCP towards consumer. I imagine some of your other competitors who are much more deeply tethered to the washroom side and the industrial side are working even harder and faster to do just that. Are you seeing any evidence of that shift? And what risk is there that we get a bit of a glut coming? So a lot of incremental supply coming to the consumer side. I don't know, 2, 3, 6 months out, however long it takes to refit some of that stuff.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [46]

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Again, I haven't seen any evidence of that thus far. I think, certainly, in the short term, given the supply situation in the market, maybe there has been a little more flexibility and some people looking to sell different products in the marketplace for consumer use. But in general, I think what Paul was talking about, which is our shift in capacity, is to make Scott 1000 or Scott products or Cottonelle products the right way when we make that shift. And we're going to -- and it will have every bit the same quality that our consumers would expect. And so that's kind of the thought we're doing. I haven't seen any evidence of that shift thus far from other suppliers, but certainly something we're going to keep watching.

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Operator [47]

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Our next question comes from Steve Powers with the Deutsche Bank.

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Stephen Robert R. Powers, Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division - Research Analyst [48]

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I hope you're doing well. Mike, on the -- on K-C Strategy 2020, I guess my question here is around just how you're prioritizing investments that encompass that strategy. Are there capabilities that you think you can still make progress on in this environment or maybe take on more urgency versus others that need to be deferred or just seem a little bit less critical today versus even a few months ago? Can you just give us some color there?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [49]

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Yes. I think -- yes. I think the capabilities are all critical for moving forward, and they're foundational for a consumer products company. I mean I'll just kind of walk you through. And we're kind of using them all right now, right? Innovation, a big one; marketing with a special emphasis on digital; the sales execution or in-market execution; and revenue management.

And so if you click through all those, I think they all have important effects for us this year. Innovation, we're seeing strong traction in China, Central and Eastern Europe, North America on our product launches. And so we want to continue those. Obviously, digital is kind of how we are competing, and it's really the lion's share of our media investment. And so we got to get better at that continuously. I think if you think about this environment, though, a lot of it does come down to the in-market execution, and we're still seeing very strong execution locally. And that matters more when we're in a tight supply situation, the coordination there. And then lastly, the revenue management, I think that will be -- I think that's an important capability, and especially given what we might anticipate some recessionary impacts and what that might do to create pressure in the promotion or pricing environment, and we're very glad we have that capability to help us manage through that in an effective way. So yes, we're...

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Maria G. Henry, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Senior VP & CFO [50]

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Yes. And I'd add...

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [51]

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Yes. Go ahead, Maria.

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Maria G. Henry, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Senior VP & CFO [52]

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Yes. I'd just add on there that we came out of the gate strong as you would have expected in the first quarter. And as we discussed our K-C 2022 strategies with you back in January, we executed that right out of the gate, and you saw that come through in the numbers on the between-the-lines spending with advertising being up meaningfully in the quarter and also investment around the capability areas that Mike just described. We've already talked about how we see the advertising spend and trade spend in this environment.

And then on the capability building activities, as you can imagine, again with things like travel restrictions in place, some of the spend on those programs will take a pause here in the near term, especially in the second quarter just as people can't get to where they need to be in terms of some of the work that we were planning to do there. So strong out of the gate in the first quarter, completely in line with what we talked about in our growth strategy around K-C 2022, a bit of a pause given the restrictions here in the near term. But as soon as we can turn those activities back on full speed, we remain fully committed to them and we certainly will do that.

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Stephen Robert R. Powers, Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division - Research Analyst [53]

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Okay. That's great. And I guess second question, if I could. You've talked a little bit about -- I just want to really hone in on it and be clear about how you're thinking about the expected trajectory of net price and mix realization through this cycle versus what we've all experienced in the past. Because it sounds like -- because of input cost deflation and recessionary pressures, it sounds like you're saying we might see more trade down or net price givebacks promotion in developed markets just once we get through the surge of demand. And while pricing will undoubtedly be sought after in D&E markets to offset FX, it sounds like you're preparing us to -- that we might see less than we might have expected based on past precedent. I just -- I don't want to put words in your mouth. I just want to run that back by you. And is that what we -- is that what I should have heard? Because I just want to take the right message.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [54]

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Yes. I think I probably am in a different place there. One, I would tell you that the pricing environment right now still remains broadly constructive. And in the current environment, we have dialed back significantly on promotion activity just given the demand environment.

I think in general, my preference is to drive category growth through innovation and advertising and to grow the overall categories. But we will stay close to what's happening in the marketplace, and we're going to continue to be competitive, but it's not where I want to go. But I do think we have the capability to be very effective in a recessionary context. And I think we're well positioned in both cases with the right brands that offer value to the consumers. And when I say that, Steve, it's not necessarily price or promotion-driven. And a lot of it I think will be communication or marketing relating to the value that our brands provide to consumers.

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Stephen Robert R. Powers, Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division - Research Analyst [55]

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Okay. So in this moment, you're not leaning one way or the other. You're just leaving all options on the table, being ready for it, and we'll see what happens. That's the message?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [56]

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Yes. And if I were to lead, again, I prefer in the high road, and I'd rather grow through innovation and brands. So...

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Operator [57]

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Our next question comes from Wendy Nicholson with Citigroup.

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Wendy Caroline Nicholson, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - MD & Head of Global Consumer Staples Research [58]

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My first question has to do with the competitive environment and thinking sort of strategically for the company, I would imagine that not only some of the competitors who supply private label to retailers but also on the professional side are less well capitalized than you and Procter or GP, for example. So I'm wondering, as you think about that, again, this goes back I think to sort of a strategic question, this could be a good opportunity to either expand your professional business, sign new contracts on the private label side. How do you think about that as opportunities maybe for outsized growth to sort of take advantage of some of your weaker competitors, if you will?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [59]

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Yes. Well, I think -- Wendy, I think maybe the general theme is, certainly, there's been some significant change in the overall environment and also the competitive environment. And so what we really want to do is pivot to where the opportunities for us to fill better needs are.

And certainly, when you talk about K-C Professional, I think I mentioned the opportunity for us to provide healthier workplaces, I think, is a very big opportunity. And for us to compete more effectively, I think we are starting to have very good conversations there. I think we're starting to see success, much more faster success in our towel business despite a lot of locations being closed for now, but in our towel business, and because they're healthier or safer than jet air dryers.

And so we are making those type of moves, and we'll work through the other areas. We also feel like, obviously, we're stronger. We have a stronger balance sheet, better capitalized. And so there are some customers who recognize the value of doing that. And so we want to leverage that opportunity as well.

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Wendy Caroline Nicholson, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - MD & Head of Global Consumer Staples Research [60]

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And do you think that -- I mean as you think about what you've seen in the past from an economic perspective if we are heading into a longer depressed economic environment, is private label something -- I think -- correct me if I'm wrong, but it's kind of 5% of your volumes at this point. Is that something that you would actually be interested in increasing? Or you kind of want to keep it more focused on the branded side?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [61]

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Yes. I think we're certainly more focused on the branded side. And thus far, it's been a relatively small piece of our business. And certainly, Wendy, right now, with -- given all what we got with our capacity limitations in the near term, we're really focused on filling all the brand demand that we got right now.

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Wendy Caroline Nicholson, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - MD & Head of Global Consumer Staples Research [62]

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Got it. And then last question just on feminine hygiene in the U.S. Your market shares are so much better across so many different categories, but feminine hygiene is one area -- at least in Nielsen data, so I recognize that might not tell the whole story, but that's the one area, both on the pad and the tampon side, where you continue to lose a little bit of share. Do you think that is pricing? Is it branding? Is it innovation? What's the -- and again, it may not be -- if we had all outlet data or whatever, that might not be an accurate reflection. But what's going on in that business?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [63]

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Yes. Wendy, in femcare in North America, it was up about high single digits on the volume, but we were down about 1 point on share. So I think you're right on what you're pushing on. We have a great global brand positioning with our She Can global brand idea, and I think that's been working for us globally. I think we do have a team that is working to improve that execution in North America and also bring the right innovation to the market. And so we love the brand positioning, but we got to do a better job of executing that in North America and the team is all over it.

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Operator [64]

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Our next question comes from Kevin Grundy with Jefferies.

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Kevin Michael Grundy, Jefferies LLC, Research Division - Senior VP & Equity Analyst [65]

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And I hope you and your families are staying safe and healthy. Two unrelated questions. First one, Mike, on the diaper business and the impact on birth rates from the recession in the U.S. So when we look back, we saw birth rates had begun to improve heading into the global financial crisis, and then we saw birth rates dip into the recession and they continue their decline. So I was curious as part of your planning process here, what your updated thoughts would be on the potential implications on birth rates from the recession and how that may inform your view for the category looking out not just over the next 12 months, but maybe over the next 3 to 5 years.

And then unrelated on e-commerce, I would say there's a little debate that the adoption shift there has only accelerated given the nature of this recession. So I think it would be helpful to get updated views on the company's market share positions in your biggest categories versus traditional retail, your margins in e-commerce versus traditional retail and then maybe some comments on your positioning relative to private label. And that will do it for me.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [66]

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Yes. With regard to diapers, I think we did see some improvement in the birth rate in North America over the past year or so. Now just recognize, Kevin, we lag a year. So I think it had been down for the previous few years, down about, I don't know, 2-ish percent. And I think maybe the most recent year, we -- our expectation was it -- for it to be down about 1 point. And the category, I think, through the back half of last year and through the first couple of months of this year, really was rebounding quite well and I would say up almost mid-single digits or technically mid-single digits. So I think it was a nice rebound in the category.

Obviously, the stock-up effect really kind of affected that and got it up to double digits in the latest quarter for the full quarter. But we are very excited about our diaper business globally and in particular, in North America. We've got great products. We've got a significant product improvement coming in Huggies Snug & Dry. And we've got great products across premium -- and strong momentum in our premium business. And so again, I think -- so I think to Jason's point, I wouldn't expect the pandemic to grow category consumption in diapers, so there's pronounced stock-up effect. But I do think we are seeing an improvement or expect to see some improvements in the birth rate.

On e-commerce, right now, given the supply situation, I think, again, as Paul mentioned, very, very strong double-digit growth that we had in the quarter. Really the focus right now is getting the supply out there, and we are allocating products to customers and making sure that we get the right products out to our customers. And so really, maybe the focus in the near term is about getting supply ramped up and out there and increasing our capacity.

So -- and then I forgot the third question.

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Kevin Michael Grundy, Jefferies LLC, Research Division - Senior VP & Equity Analyst [67]

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It was all e-commerce related, Mike. It was not so much what's going on now because I realize there's a pantry load going on. So the sort of sell-through looks phenomenal. The sell-in, of course, is very good as well. It's really -- it's your market share positioning online relative to traditional retail and your margins for online relative to traditional retail and even private label relative to traditional retail.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [68]

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Yes. Well, I'll break that down to our 3 principal markets. So obviously, our biggest e-commerce markets are in the U.S., China and Korea. In China, well over 50% of our business is in e-commerce, and we have a very strong e-commerce position there. Similarly, in Korea, almost 90% of the diaper business is on e-commerce. Obviously, we're far and away the market share leader in Korea. And then in the U.S., I would say, across our categories overall, we're about fair share although, however, we're probably a little ahead on consumer tissue and a little bit lighter on diapers, but we've been making progress there. In fact, I think we had a multiple share point increase last year on our online diaper share. So we're making progress.

With regard to margins, generally, the way we price out, particularly in North America, we price our customers, they're all on a similar program. So margins at the highest level tend to be about the same. There are going to be some differences because we do reflect advertising investment back to the customer because they are the customer. And so there will be some differences. And it may appear that the margins may be slightly lower, but that really reflects what we're doing, let's say, with Amazon media or Walmart media or those kinds of things.

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Operator [69]

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Our next question comes from Steve Strycula with UBS.

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Steven A. Strycula, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Equity Research Analyst [70]

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So I want to go back to the BRIC countries and really focus in on the volume piece rather than the price/mix piece. Particularly, I wanted to understand from a COVID situation, more just from a recessionary situation. So if we could piece those 2 pieces apart, would love to understand first, what are you seeing in the BRIC countries in terms of consumers' ability to access your products because of some of those markets, maybe the retail stores aren't open? And how do you think about near-term demand being able to secure that? And then on the recessionary piece, do you think that volumetrically, some of these countries like in Latin America, China and even India, that the business cannot just grow through a recessionary period based on what we know from '08, '09? And then I have a follow-up.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [71]

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Yes. With regard to BRIC, maybe I'll have to talk through the different pieces just because we don't lump them together. But I think the -- with regard to China, I would say the business for us has been largely back online both figuratively and literally. And since we tend to have a big portion of our business sold online, I think sales have, I would say, resumed, if not normal levels, closer to normal levels. And we feel very good about that. And I think our team feels very bullish about how that market is performing and where the consumer is headed there.

Brazil is still early to tell because I think the impact of -- we've been experiencing the recessionary impact in Brazil for a while now. And then the pandemic is a more recent phenomenon there. There's a little bit of a lag of it affecting it there. But it's starting to have an impact, and that's why we did see some of the stock-up behavior. I do think we are seeing continued strong demand in tissue. It's a little tough to see what was the stock-up effect versus what was the normal pull-through effect, but it was definitely elevated. And then on the personal care side, we did see demand softened a little bit. And again, we have been seeing that occur in the category over the last several quarters just based on the economic impacts.

Let's see. BRIC -- India, right now, we're strong double-digit growth and continuing to have strong double-digit growth. But the more recent emphasis with COVID-19 now is making sure that we can maintain operational supply, and that's been a big focus. We were down for a period of time while we were getting the right permits to operate as an essential business. So -- and we're back online now fully. But as you know or may read that I think the COVID, we're very concerned about the repercussions in the marketplace and the effect that it's going to have on consumers, and so we're staying close to that. That said, we experienced strong double-digit growth in the quarter there.

And then Russia or Central and Eastern Europe for us overall continues to perform very strongly. It was up high teens overall. Strong share growth in diapers and femcare in Russia last quarter, multiple share points in both. It turns out, I was in Ukraine and Uzbekistan and Russia right before we went on work from home. The markets are performing great. Ukraine, we've achieved share leadership. I think we're about a 40 share at this point, nearly a 60 share in Kazakhstan, and we feel very good about the market. I don't know that I have a clear view on maybe the pandemic effect yet because I think that's still working its way through. And -- but we're watching that very closely.

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Steven A. Strycula, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Equity Research Analyst [72]

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That was really helpful. And then I have one quick follow-up and I'll pass it along. On the innovation slate for this year, how does the pandemic really impact that? To certain products that may have been slotted or earmarked for March and April, did those make it onto retail shelves? Or did maybe pieces of the innovation slate get put into the back-to-school reset? Just help us understand what's -- what are you really excited about in the pipeline?

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [73]

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Yes. I mean, as I mentioned, we've got a lot of innovation coming on diapers this year with both in North America and Snug & Dry. Our premium products are fantastic. China, we're launching -- we already -- we feel like we already have the best diaper in the marketplace, and we're launching a significant upgrade to that this month that the team is very excited about. We've got a significant innovation coming in Latin America -- well, especially Brazil on diapers. So that's diapers, I'll come back to it.

Femcare, we have pad improvements and great marketing plans around the world and also in our adult care business. So we have a lot of good innovation that I mentioned earlier. I think the -- in terms of the phasing, in general, especially in personal care, it is going as per plan with a couple of exceptions, which is in Latin America because, what Maria mentioned, we've delayed -- we don't have the ability to get engineers internationally into locations to install new equipment. And so some of the innovation that we had slated for launching -- that we're going to launch in Brazil, we were also launching in other markets. We're delaying that just for executional reasons until we have access to the mills.

And we don't -- because we're prioritizing safety of our employees, we don't want people who are not traditionally going into the mill going into the mill and creating a different -- a germ environment, right? So it's not just for travel restrictions, but it's for safety restrictions also. And so we're consciously making some of those trade-offs. And so yes, net-net, we will delay some innovations, but it's more for executional reasons.

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Operator [74]

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Our next question comes from Lauren Lieberman with Barclays.

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Lauren Rae Lieberman, Barclays Bank PLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [75]

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I'm all set. It was covered.

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Operator [76]

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At this time, we have no other questions in the queue.

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Paul J. Alexander, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - VP of IR [77]

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All right. Well, we appreciate everyone's time and questions today, and we'll wrap up with a comment from Mike.

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Michael D. Hsu, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - Chairman & CEO [78]

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Thank you all for joining our call. We're really encouraged by our solid start to the year and our ability to manage through these challenging conditions. And while they're challenging, we're obviously realistic about our near-term challenge, but we remain very optimistic in our long-term potential. So thank you for joining us today.

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Paul J. Alexander, Kimberly-Clark Corporation - VP of IR [79]

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Thank you very much.

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Operator [80]

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Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes today's presentation. You may disconnect your phone lines and thank you for joining us this morning.