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A Lot Is Riding on Procter & Gamble’s Upcoming Earnings Report

Demitrios Kalogeropoulos, The Motley Fool

Investors haven't had much to celebrate in Procter & Gamble's (NYSE: PG) recent earnings reports, given that the consumer products giant has missed growth expectations in each of the last two fiscal years. But that momentum appears to be shifting. In fact, Wall Street is expecting to hear mostly good news when the company announces fiscal second-quarter results on Wednesday, Jan. 23.

Let's look at what's in store for shareholders.

A woman adjusts settings on a washing machine.

Image source: Getty Images.

Market share

The most important factor underpinning Procter & Gamble's long-term earnings power -- and the piece that's been missing lately -- is market share growth. As the company explains in its annual report, management targets "organic sales growth above market growth rates" so that earnings can improve at a mid- to high-single-digit pace. That top line success also supports P&G's third core objective of converting at least 90% of annual earnings into free cash flow.

Market share declined in each of the last two years, a disappointment to investors who had been counting on Procter & Gamble's slimmer portfolio to deliver better results. However, that negative trend was interrupted last quarter when the company logged its best growth rate in years. Organic sales jumped 4% to comfortably outpace peers like Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB), which grew at a 1% rate in the period. Both these giants in consumer staples will announce their earnings results on Wednesday, and investors will get a good idea of their relative market strengths by comparing the two reports. If recent trends hold, Kimberly-Clark's sales will be close to flat, while P&G's expand at a faster rate that implies modest market share gains.

About those price hikes

Commodity costs on things like plastic and pulp have been rising for more than a year, but because of the sluggish industry growth rate, Procter & Gamble has been reluctant to try passing along those increases to consumers. That changed this past quarter. The company announced plans to boost prices by 4% in its Pampers franchise and by 5% or more across its Bounty, Charmin, and Puff brands. Kimberly-Clark raised prices, too, including on its Huggies franchise that competes with P&G's Pampers.

We'll find out this week whether consumers balked at the price increases and shifted demand toward value-based competitors. Procter & Gamble's management team warned back in late October that this was a possibility, and said the company would respond by aiming to balance market share against profitability. "We'll simply have to adjust as we go and as we learn," CFO Jon Moeller told investors. The key metrics that will show how well this experiment went will be organic sales growth, sales volumes, and pricing changes. Ideally, organic sales will rise due to increases in both demand and average prices.

Updated outlook

CEO David Taylor and his team will have an opportunity on Wednesday to adjust Procter & Gamble's full-year outlook, which currently calls for sales growth to accelerate between 2% and 3%, up from 1% last year. Its fiscal first-quarter report constituted a big step in that direction, but executives admitted that a lot of execution risk remained before the company could be comfortable in hitting its forecast. With half of the year behind it, that concern will be lower, and so P&G's updated prediction for fiscal 2019 will carry more weight for investors.

Confirming or raising its current sales range means the company is on pace to win market share and accelerate growth. A downgrade, on the other hand, would imply another year of disappointing top-line results for the industry leader.

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Demitrios Kalogeropoulos has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.