A buying opportunity may have opened up at iconic global brands powerhouse The Procter & Gamble Company (NYSE:PG).
On the face of things, Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG.US) doesn't look particularly cheap. A price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 19.9, for instance, doesn't conventionally scream 'buy'. And, let's face it, a share price that's pretty much moved in lockstep with the S&P 500 over the last 10 years doesn't signal massive mis-pricing, either.
Yet as the cover story in the current issue of Fortune magazine relates, things have not been going so well at the iconic consumer goods company, whose rich clutch of brands includes Fairy, Daz, Tampax, Gillette, Duracell and Pantene. For while the share price has indeed largely tracked the S&P 500, it has significantly underperformed its peers in the consumer staples sector of the index.
And the article's authors -- and the sources that those authors spoke to -- pin much of the blame on chief executive Bob McDonald. Mr McDonald, it seems, has presided over middling revenue growth, a decline in net income and a declining market share. Executives, charged the article, have been deserting in droves -- including Paul Polman, now chief executive of arch-rival Unilever.
And the comparison with Unilever is very apposite. Bedeviled by complex reporting structures and matrix management, P&G's growth is seen as comparing very poorly with the nimbler and less complex Unilever. Mr McDonald's job is on the line, it seems, and analysts and investors alike are looking for an improvement in the numbers.
So should British investors consider a stake in Procter & Gamble?
Procter & Gamble, it's fair to say, is not a share that many British investors will ever have considered buying -- despite the fact that buying the shares of international companies is now easier, and cheaper, than ever.
Indeed, America's stock markets could well be considered a 'must buy' for serious long-term investors, making up as they do a whopping 52% of the MSCI World Index. The UK, by comparison, makes up just 9%.
Yet for all of this, few of us seeking exposure to America's markets get further than buying an American index tracker -- such as HSBC's low-cost HSBC S&P 500 ETF, or Vanguard's Vanguard S&P 500 ETF.
Doing the deal
The facts: look closely, and for most investors, trading through most 'big name' brokers, buying American shares is no more complicated than buying British shares.
Granted, the commission is a little higher, and there are foreign exchange costs to take into account, but these aren't excessive. My broker, for instance, charges just £11.95 commission -- and don't forget that with foreign shares, there's no stamp duty to pay.
That said, there's a little more form-filling involved. America's Internal Revenue Service charges a 30% Withholding Tax on dividends, for instance, and overseas investors -- that's you -- need to fill in a W-8BEN form once a year to get a reduced tax rate.
The good news? Every broker is familiar with these forms, and filling it in is very straightforward. Putting it another way, compared to when I first bought American shares through an American broker in the 1990s, today's dealing arrangements couldn't be simpler.
So is Procter & Gamble a buy?
Clearly, Procter & Gamble faces some headwinds. That said, the conclusion drawn by the Fortune article is that Mr McDonald and his most senior executives have got the message. Indeed, peer into the latest numbers, and it's possible to conclude that even if things aren't getting markedly better, they aren't -- for once -- getting worse.
And there's no denying the sales and profit potential of Procter & Gamble's powerful stable of brands, if only the marketing and organisational snafus can only be sorted out. Put another way, the analogy that comes to mind is one of a supertanker heading through choppy water, rather than one heading for the rocks.
| ||Year ending June 2012||Year ending June 2011||Year ending June 2010||Year ending June 2009|
|Earnings per share||$3.65||$3.93||$3.53||$3.58|
|Dividend per share||$2.14||$1.97||$1.80||$1.64|
Changing hands today at $78, Procter & Gamble's shares are rated on a forecast P/E of 19.9, and offer a historic yield of 2.9%. While neither figure is particularly compelling on their own, each is certainly at a discount to the sector average. And Procter & Gamble, don't forget, is pretty much the top dog of the sector in question.
Is the company a buy? Certainly one for the watch list, I'd argue. I like the sector -- and hold both Unilever and Reckitt Benckiser -- so Procter & Gamble isn't without its charms. Especially for an income investor looking for dependable dividends. Buy on weakness, would be my call.
Follow the money
One investor who certainly buys on weakness is Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway investment vehicle has delivered returns of over 20% per annum since 1965, and turned Buffett himself into the world's third-wealthiest person.
As it happens, Buffett recently took advantage of weak results and a dip in the share price to top-up his holding in one particular FTSE 100 share -- an unusual move for an investor who rarely ventures outside the United States. As a result, he now owns over 5% of this company, which he first began buying back in 2006.
Its name? Simply download this free special report from The Motley Fool -- “The One UK Share Warren Buffett Loves” -- to find out. Inside, you'll discover just why Buffett has invested over £1 billion in this business, and why you could consider taking a stake too.
With the share price sharply up in Buffett's most-recent purchase price, the share is still rated below the P/E of the FTSE 100 as a whole, and also offers a market-beating prospective yield of 4.3%. As I say, the report is free, and can be in your inbox in seconds. Click here to download it.
> Malcolm owns shares in Unilever and Reckitt Benckiser, but does not have an interest in any other shares named. The Motley Fool has recommended shares in Unilever.