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P&G's product push to weigh on profit, shares fall

Procter & Gamble's Tide can be seen on display at a new Wal-Mart store in Chicago, January 24, 2012. REUTERS/John Gress
Procter & Gamble's Tide can be seen on display at a new Wal-Mart store in Chicago, January 24, 2012. REUTERS/John Gress

By Jessica Wohl

(Reuters) - Procter & Gamble Co said on Wednesday that profit would fall more than Wall Street anticipated this quarter as it increases spending to promote several new products.

The news spooked investors who do not want to wait until 2014 for better sales increases. Shares of the world's largest household products maker fell as much as 6 percent after closing at an all-time high of $82.54 on Tuesday.

"There's a lot of frustration that they've been talking about a lot of actions they've been taking but we haven't really seen an acceleration in the sales growth," said David Blount, co-portfolio manager of the Growth & Income Fund at Eagle Asset Management, which includes P&G shares.

The company, maker of Pampers diapers, Gillette razors and many other products, has been under greater scrutiny to improve after cutting profit expectations in the past and learning that activist investor Bill Ackman invested in the stock.

Cincinnati-based P&G also posted a fiscal third-quarter profit on Wednesday that topped estimates despite sales that were weaker than both the company and analysts had anticipated.

Chief Executive Bob McDonald was roasted by analysts on a conference call a year ago when P&G gave a profit warning. While Wednesday's call was not as tense, analysts wanted to know why the company has not yet posted better sales growth more than a year into its turnaround.

P&G, which announced a $10 billion restructuring in February 2012, said that its push for more innovation means that several products such as new Iams pet foods and Olay skin creams will soon hit stores. After cutting billions of dollars in costs, along with eliminating hundreds of more jobs than anticipated, it will now spend more to promote those new goods and even to build the plants to produce them around the world.

FOURTH-QUARTER FORECAST

For the current fourth quarter ending in June, P&G said profit should fall to 69 cents to 77 cents per share, while analysts expected it to earn 81 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. P&G earned 82 cents per share in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012.

The company cited factors including weak market growth, higher marketing and other costs and volatility in Venezuela, Argentina, Egypt, Syria and South Korea.

Wednesday's fiscal third-quarter results were a sharp departure from the fiscal second quarter, when P&G raised its annual profit forecast and its shares jumped. On Wednesday, on the heels of the better-than-expected third quarter profit, it raised only the bottom end of its annual forecast range by 2 cents per share.

"They're still making progress, they're still on the right track, it is just going to be a little more slowly than what people expected," said Edward Jones analyst Jack Russo.

P&G insists that its forecast is "realistic, not conservative," especially given the headwinds it faces such as volatility in Venezuela and elsewhere, Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller told analysts.

Along with spending on marketing to promote its new products, P&G is dealing with what it calls a "choppy" economic recovery, and sees a 1 to 2 percent impact on its sales this year from foreign exchange rates.

Its shares slid as low as $77.48 on Wednesday and were last trading down 4.7 percent at $78.05, wiping out nearly all of this month's gains. Shares of rivals such as Colgate-Palmolive Co and Kimberly-Clark Corp were down less than 2 percent.

JOB CUTS EXCEED GOAL

While products such as single-dose Tide Pods laundry detergent have boosted U.S. sales, P&G said it still needs to figure out the formula for getting products such as Pantene shampoo and Olay skin creams to stand out among competitors. Net sales decreased in the hair care and skin care business in the latest quarter.

P&G is taking the right steps by cutting costs, bringing out new products and growing in developing markets, but it is important for it to show progress in the beauty unit in the next quarter or two, said Russo.

P&G said it earned 99 cents per share on a core basis in the quarter ended in March, topping analysts' target of 96 cents. Core earnings exclude items such as restructuring charges.

Overall sales rose 2 percent to $20.598 billion while analysts were looking for sales of $20.73 billion. The company had forecast 3 to 4 percent in sales growth.

P&G's organic sales, which strip out the impact of divestitures and foreign exchange changes, grew 3 percent - at the low end of its forecast of 3 to 4 percent.

On a net basis, the company earned $2.57 billion, or 88 cents per share, in the fiscal third quarter. That was up from $2.41 billion, or 82 cents per share, a year earlier.

McDonald declined to comment on any discussions he may have been having with Ackman, who is known to push for change at companies in which he invests. Ackman's Pershing Square had a 1.02 percent stake in P&G, or 27.95 million shares, as of December, making it P&G's eighth-largest shareholder, according to Thomson Reuters data.

P&G said it now plans to repurchase $6 billion of its stock this year, at the high end of its prior forecast for $5 billion to $6 billion in buybacks. Last June, P&G decided to hold off on buybacks, but in August quickly reverted back to its usual plan.

P&G also said it had cut 6,250 jobs as of March 31, ahead of its goal to cut 5,700 jobs by the end of June.

(Reporting by Jessica Wohl; in Chicago; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Matthew Lewis)

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