After years of fluctuations, Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) finally broke out of its range in 2018. Procter & Gamble stock surged higher by more than 50% at its peak in a one-year period.
This was the surge that took it out of the trading range it had maintained for six years. Still, after that move, many now wonder whether the stock will move higher or plateau.
PG stock has long attracted income-oriented investors. Due to its long streak of dividend increases, PG has remained attractive to some even amid strategic pivots and competitive threats from emerging e-commerce players. However, valuations and headwinds coming from outside of the business could weigh on Procter & Gamble and the industry in general.
PG Stock and Stability
Long-term holders should continue to benefit from a boring, but stable stock. Profit growth remains modest but also steady. Procter & Gamble also belongs to a short list of equities called “dividend aristocrats.” These stocks have increased dividends annually for at least 25 years. In the case of PG stock, the streak has run for 62 years. I do not see any apparent reasons that will not continue.
Further, PG remains vibrant even though its competitive moat consists of shelf space and name recognition. While consumers recognize Tide laundry detergent and Pampers diapers, they can choose worthy alternatives not produced by PG. Moreover, the rise of ecommerce threatens the importance of shelf space. I do not see sales falling off of a cliff, but that can present a headwind to company growth.
Consequently, I see Procter & Gamble stock as a “don’t buy.” I would add that investors who bought 13 months ago have seen the PG stock price rise by as much as 55%. That group might want to consider selling.
Procter & Gamble’s New Focus
Traders may have finally decided they like PG’s strategic moves. Procter & Gamble remained rangebound for most of the decade as it restructured. In 2012, it sold Pringles to Kellogg (NYSE:K), exiting the food business. It has also exited other product lines in subsequent years.
Despite these sales, acquisitions also continue. It also bought the consumer health division of Merck (NYSE:MRK) in 2018. Effective in July, it will employ what it calls a “simpler corporate structure” made up of six business units.
Such strategic pivots relieve worries about a weak competitive moat. They should keep Procter & Gamble stock stable. Moreover, peers such as Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB) and Colgate Palmolive (NYSE:CL) trade at similar multiples, offering little advantage over PG stock.
Procter & Gamble Stock Is Pricey
Still, for all of the income potential Procter & Gamble stock offers, it now appears overbought. The price-to-earnings (PE) ratio at around 24.5 exceeds its long-term averages. It’s also a lot to pay for a company expected to grow earnings by 5.7% this year. That estimate could fall if tariff-related issues raise input and manufacturing costs.
Moreover, while the dividend yield of 2.8% stands well above S&P 500 averages, PG has historically offered higher payouts.
However, investors can find lower-cost dividend aristocrats for income. Equities such as AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) and AT&T (NYSE:T) offer deeper competitive moats and higher dividend yields at much lower PE ratios.
I expect that the rising payouts will attract many to Procter & Gamble. However, income-oriented investors can find both higher payouts and fewer competitive threats outside of the consumer defensive names.
Final Thoughts on PG stock
High multiples may hamper the near-term growth of not only Procter & Gamble but that of consumer defensive stocks in general. Despite strategic threats, PG should remain stable and continue to generate the cash flows that will fuel dividend growth for the foreseeable future.
However, new buyers will have to pay close to 25 times earnings for an equity expecting profit growth in the mid-single-digits at best. In fairness, its most direct peers face a similar situation. Also, if one must buy a consumer defensive stock right now, I would recommend PG stock.
Still, income-oriented investors seeking dividend aristocrats can find lower multiples and higher payouts outside of the consumer defensive sector. Rather than buying Procter & Gamble stock at these levels, investors should seek options with more profit potential.
As of this writing, Will Healy is long ABBV stock. You can follow Will on Twitter at @HealyWriting.
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