Procter & Gamble's forecast critical to CEO's tenure
(Reuters) - Procter & Gamble Co (PG.N) Chief Executive Bob McDonald's efforts to fend off activist investor William Ackman are not likely to be helped by the company's quarterly results this week.
The maker of Tide detergent and Gillette razors is expected to post its third consecutive decline in revenue and earnings per share when it issues fiscal first-quarter results on October 25. Analysts trimmed their targets when P&G gave a forecast in August that was below Wall Street's view.
Investors will also be watching for a forecast for the current fiscal second quarter and, less likely, any changes to the full-year forecast for signs that McDonald's plans for turning the company around are starting to take hold.
"If he comes in weak would anybody be surprised that the Bill Ackmans of the world have more power?" said Matt McCormick, portfolio manager at Cincinnati-based Bahl & Gaynor, which manages $7.3 billion, including 4.89 million P&G shares.
P&G disappointed investors by cutting its fiscal guidance multiple times during fiscal 2012.
Analysts have said that McDonald, who has run P&G since July 2009, may be running out of time to show that his strategy is working.
Ackman, whose Pershing Square Capital Management is P&G's 10th-largest shareholder, has publicly blamed P&G's top brass for high costs and declining revenue while saying that he understands the board wants to give McDonald time to repair years of damage.
Ackman met with board members in early September at a meeting in New York, where he laid out his complaints.
"I attribute a lot of those problems to senior management," Ackman said on October 1, adding that it will pay off to wait for "this CEO or the next CEO" to shape up the company.
P&G, which McDonald has admitted lost its footing as its stream of innovation slowed down, is now focused on its 40 biggest businesses, 20 biggest new products and 10 key developing markets. A $10 billion restructuring has led to thousands of job cuts, some even earlier than planned, though some analysts believe P&G could reduce costs even further.
But given the recent history of having to lower its forecasts, setting an overly optimistic one now could just set a trap for later.
"They need to set something low so they can hopefully beat it or at least not miss it," said Caris & Co analyst Linda Bolton Weiser. "They can't miss guidance, they can't."
"PLEASE BUY MORE"
While Ackman could press harder for change at the top, investors at P&G's October 9 annual meeting largely backed the CEO.
"I'm really proud of you, Mr. McDonald," investor James Sakelos said during the meeting, held blocks away from P&G's headquarters in Cincinnati. "You are doing an excellent job and we do have to be patient."
McDonald, in an unscripted moment during the highly orchestrated event, even got a joke in about P&G's share price, which rose after Ackman bought in during the summer.
"I have a little stock in P&G, which I'm thankful (for)," Sakelos said.
"Please buy more," McDonald replied, getting laughs from the crowd.
"There was a degree of conviction there that is something that you normally don't see from Procter people," said Bahl & Gaynor's McCormick, who attended the meeting.
"The bottom line is a lot of investors are going to be intensely interested in these upcoming results," he said. "If they are to the upside and exceed expectations people are going to give McDonald the benefit of the doubt for at least another quarter."
Even as P&G's 10th-largest shareholder, Ackman's stake is small. Pershing Square holds 21.92 million shares, or 0.79 percent of the company's outstanding shares, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Analysts on average expect P&G to post sales of $20.77 billion and earnings of 96 cents per share for the fiscal first quarter that ended in September, down from sales of $21.92 billion and earnings of $1.03 per share a year earlier, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. In August, P&G forecast a profit of 91 cents to 97 cents per share, while analysts at that time had expected a profit of $1.03 per share.
Shares of P&G have risen since Ackman's stake was disclosed in July but have trailed the gains in the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI, of which they are a component, so far this year.
(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)