After fighting one of the biggest, nastiest proxy fights of all time to keep allies of Nelson Peltz off its board, Proctor & Gamble Co (NYSE:PG) has invited him, and one of those allies, to join. It almost makes you wonder what the fight was about.
The company had first claimed victory by 6 million votes, but a recount showed Peltz up by 10,000. Before launching his fight for three board seats, Peltz’ Trian Fund Management had obtained 3.6 million shares, about 1.5% of the common, and $65 million was then spent by both sides wooing shareholders.
Speed to Market
PG revenues have been declining for years, from $74.4 billion in 2013 to $65 billion in 2017, as the company shed its beauty brands to Coty Inc (NYSE:COTY) for $12.5 billion, including Cover Girl and Clairol. The move brought over $5 billion to the bottom line during the fourth quarter of 2016.
But it didn’t do anything for operating cash flow, which fell from $15.4 billion in fiscal 2016 to less than $12.8 billion in fiscal 2017. It plunged to just $3.6 billion for the quarter ending in September, and the announcement of September numbers sent the PG stock price from $93 to $86 in a few weeks.
The proxy fight, and what appears to be a narrow Peltz win, has brought PG stock nearly all the way back to its pre-fight levels.
Peltz wants to split the company into three business units, down from 10, arguing that its bureaucracy rewards lack of innovation and underperformance. This could quickly lead to a breakup of the company, which dominates Cincinnati and has dominated business products for decades.
Peltz sees smaller companies as more focused. P&G management sees them as easier for hedge funds to manipulate, which can lead to enormous fees.
Time to Buy PG Stock?
Word of the settlement sent PG stock up, and stock now sits around $92. But is now the time to buy?
Unilever NV (ADR) (NYSE:UN), the Dutch conglomerate whose brands include Lipton, Dove and Hellmann’s, is up almost 40% this year with a tighter focus, while PG is up just 9%, mostly on the proxy fight. It’s UN’s performance Peltz wants to emulate.
But the settlement, and raising the size of the board and not dumping the old directors as Peltz wanted, means the fight is just starting. Peltz is inside the room, but he and Jimenez will still be outgunned. The folks at Portfolio Grader now call the stock a buy, but analysts have been reluctant to get off the fence, with just one switching from hold to buy in the last month.
The Bottom Line on PG Stock
Peltz wants quick results, but he’s not going to get them.
On the other hand, it is likely he will get results over time, so those who believe in him should consider following him into PG stock.
You’ll need to be patient, however. It can be as hard to change a corporate culture from the inside as the outside. The company is likely to first tweak things at the edges, selling a few brands and doing a reorganization, rather than accept the full breakup Peltz craves.
If you can accept a dividend paying 3% and have the patience to wait for 2-3 years for the big move, I think PG stock may be a good speculation for you right now.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of the historical mystery romance, The Reluctant Detective Travels in Time, available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing, he owned no shares in companies mentioned in this story.