Kudos to (relatively) new Procter & Gamble Co (NYSE:PG) CEO David Taylor. While many companies would continue doing the same things, but expect a different outcome, Taylor knows that for P&G to return to its former glory, something has to change. Though he’s shed several business units since taking the helm in 2015, he’s also brought some new ones into the fold in an effort to drive growth and bolster Procter & Gamble stock.
Unfortunately, it’s not a less-than-optimal mix of products and brands that’s getting in the way. The consumer goods market has changed, but Procter & Gamble hasn’t changed with it.
Until the company is willing to embrace that it doesn’t know what it doesn’t know, Procter & Gamble stock will be a tough name to own. The fact that PG shares are within sight of multi-year lows suggests the market understands this idea all too well.
Changing the Mix
Only a few days ago Procter & Gamble announced it would be acquire Merck KGaA’s consumer health business, shelling out $4.2 billion for a collection of basic products, like painkillers and supplements, that have a particularly strong presence in Latin America and Asia.
It wasn’t the first deal P&G has made of late, but it’s by far the biggest one since Procter & Gamble acquired Gillette in 2005 for a whopping $57 billion. In November, the consumer staples giant bought Native deodorant and, in February, it nabbed skincare company Snowberry in an effort to garner exposure to the all-natural product.
The deal-making finally makes good on a comment Taylor made all the way back in 2016, mainly that the company hasn’t “been very aggressive on this front because of the portfolio cleanup,” but acknowledging “acquisitions are a tool. We haven’t shut our eyes to opportunities.”
The “portfolio cleanup” in question includes the 2015 sale of several beauty brands to Coty Inc (NYSE:COTY), though if activist investor (and major PG shareholder) Nelson Peltz had his way, several more assets would have been spun off by now as well. Those divestitures could still be looming.
On the surface, it looks like — more than anything else — a repositioning of PG’s portfolio in a way that grows sales as well as profits. Taylor said of the Native and Snowberry deals: “We’ll remain open to whatever it takes to make sure we win in this fast-growing segment.
“It is not business as usual at P&G. We’ve made the choice that we’re going to make additional changes to accelerate and get back on positive share growth, top-line growth and bottom-line growth,” he added.
What if, however, the mix of product lines wasn’t the problem for Procter & Gamble stock at all?
Indeed, more than a modest amount of evidence suggests the product and brand mix isn’t the problem.
It’s become a tired cliche to blame the trouble all other companies have faced of late on the rise of Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN). That doesn’t make the cliche untrue, though. Consumers are increasingly buying more of their consumables — like detergent, paper towels and toothpaste — online rather than in stores.
In some regards this doesn’t impact Procter & Gamble. Consumers can just as easily buy their P&G-made Pampers diapers online from Amazon or another e-commerce platform as they can from a store.
As has proven a problem for sellers of all sorts of goods, though, the internet has proven a great equalizer, allowing smaller outfits to compete with bigger ones. Procter & Gamble’s alliances with traditional retailers that have allowed it to squeeze rival products off of store shelves doesn’t mean much anymore.
Perhaps more than anything, though, thanks to its size, shape and habits, Procter & Gamble has simply lost touch with consumers.
Giving credit where it’s due, Forbes contributor Pamela Danziger may have said it best late last year when she opined:
“Millennials have a special relationship with brands. They perceive themselves as special people and want the brands they connect with to understand their special needs. They are skeptical of mass brands with their one-size-fits-all approach because they want brands that fit their individual person, their special “one.” Mass brands like Tide, even packaged in new pod style, may have satisfied their mothers or grandmothers, but those brands aren’t likely to satisfy them.
Push marketing strategies employed by mass brands just don’t work on them either. It’s like two magnets when you try to push the two positive or negative ends together. Millennials are repelled, not attracted, by push marketing.”
To its credit, Procter & Gamble somewhat conceded the old ways don’t exactly work anymore, calling a sampling-based marketing approach “too myopic.”
Problem is, it doesn’t appear much changed following that revelation. If anything, P&G’s Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard’s decision to cut the company’s digital advertising budget late last year suggest the company doesn’t understand that its target market increasingly lives online.
Perhaps Procter & Gamble’s online marketing was just bad or, maybe, Nelson Peltz was (also) right all along with his assessment that the company’s “innovation machine is broken.”
Buying and selling various brands doesn’t fix any of these problems.
Bottom Line for Procter & Gamble Stock
Whatever the real problem is — or whatever the combination of problems is — it bodes poorly for PG shares that the company appears to be talking about everything else besides these matters. It sometimes sounds like it’s trying to avoid talking about these matters.
It’s a philosophical, subjective idea to be sure, and not the kind of ideas most analysts are willing or able to wade into. For investors willing to look at a company in a light that isn’t entirely quantifiable, though, it’s tough to get excited about Procter & Gamble stock until it’s clearly willing to come face to face with its real challenges.
An innovative new hit product or two would be a great start.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.