Worth A Gamble

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Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) recently reported impressive results for the last three months of 2012.

The Cincinnati, Ohio-based multinational consumer product company, best known for iconic brands such as Tide laundry detergent, Pamper diapers, Duracell batteries, and a cache of health and beauty products including Olay, Crest, Head & Shoulders, Cover Girl, Clairol, Gillette and many more, earned $4.1 billion over the three months ending December 2012. That was up from the $1.7 billion reported during the same quarter a year earlier.

The impressive quarter was thanks to some hefty cost-cutting and the introduction of some new products such as Tide Pods (easy and mess free), and a new, souped-up and pricy version of its popular shampoo Pantene (which I have tried and will buy again).

CEO Robert McDonald has been anything but popular among shareholders, and activist investor and hedge fund manager William Ackman has been vocal in his displeasure with the world’s largest consumer producer's lackluster performance and loss of market share over the last couple of years.  But McDonald is gaining favor as Procter & Gamble's shares are showing some real signs of life.

Competitors like Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL) and Unilever (NYSE: UL) have been receiving most of the accolades lately. But that looks to change soon.

Colgate, the company behind the legendary Colgate toothpaste and Palmolive soap sold in more than 200 countries worldwide, gained 13.2% for all of 2012. More than half of Colgate's sales come from emerging markets like Brazil and China, which are both showing some signs of a slowdown. Here in the states, growth from deep discounters, including P&G, is weighing on revenue. Plus, Colgate's pet nutrition business is an industry laggard.

Meanwhile, Unilever has continued to grow thanks to its vigorous expansion in developing markets and the shedding of some non-core assets. For example, the company just sold its Skippy Peanut Butter brand to Hormel Foods. The company behind Dove, Lipton and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream added 15.5% over the last year. But, this Netherlands-based company has been closing a number of manufacturing plants and handing out plenty of pink slips. Not an encouraging sign.

While Procter & Gamble rose just 1.8% in 2012, it stands a much better chance of performing better than its rivals this year. Q4 results were the third consecutive quarter of gains.  In addition, thanks to some strategic pricing, sales are increasing in many of P&G’s bevy of brands. The company bought back $1.4 billion in stock in the latest quarter, bringing the total repurchased since July 2012 to $4 billion. That brings it closer to the $6 billion the company expects to buyback by June.

While P&G’s products are sold in more than 180 countries dotted around the globe, sales of its admired and recognized American brands lag overseas, particularly in Europe. But with some aggressive price slashing, P&G hopes to gain traction in the crucial region.

By 2016, P&G aims to have amassed $10 billion in cost savings. Much of the savings are expected to come from reducing headcount. To date, P&G has shed 5,500 of the 5,700 non-manufacturing jobs targeted. The savings will be used to boost marketing for the throng of new product offerings P&G hopes will wow consumers and bulk up its bottom line. The company relies heavily on consumer feedback for inspiration in new product offerings that aim to make everyday living easier and more pleasant.

Shares may also pleasantly juice a portfolio.  Since a June low of $59.07, P&G’s shares have spiked more than 25%. A betting person may do well by gambling on Procter & Gamble.

DianeAlter has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Procter & Gamble and Unilever. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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