A high-stakes game of chicken at Procter & Gamble could end with lower prices for Pampers, Tide and Gillete razors.
The consumer products giant and activist investor Nelson Peltz agreed to end what is believed to be the costliest battle for boardroom control in corporate America's history. Although Peltz ultimately lost the vote for the seat in a nailbiter, P&G appointed him to the board starting March 1.
Peltz declined to comment for this story, but his investment firm's scathing September report on P&G's struggles offers clues that he could pursue a price-chipping strategy once he's on the inside.
In the report, Peltz's Trian Management Group said P&G's "greatest" challenge is declining market share. The culprit: P&G products were marked up an average of 50% over the cost to make them, Trian found.
Analysts believe P&G will experiment with reduced prices and introduce cheap new products to win back customers.
Raymond James' Joseph Altobello points to Tide Simply, a cheaper version of Tide that rolled out in 2013, as a past example of P&G targeting the lower end.
Bernstein analyst Ali Dibadj expects P&G to ramp up this strategy to reach cost-conscious shoppers. He believes P&G will try to stop the bleeding by giving customers more free samples with the hope they'll buy full-priced items later on.
P&G makes most of the essentials below your sink, in your laundry room and inside your medicine chest -- Tide, Bounty, Charmin, Crest, Gillette, Swiffer, Pampers, Old Spice, Olay and Tampax.
"Laundry, diapers and- razors are the categories P&G can't afford to lose share in," Dibadj said.
P&G already started lowering prices on one of its most important products. During its fight against Peltz, P&G slashed Gillette prices and introduced new disposable razors.
P&G had focused most of its attention on more expensive Gillette razors in recent years, allowing cheaper subscription services Dollar Shave Club, Harry's and ShaveLogic to gain a foothold. Gillette's command of the razor market fell by 11 percentage points over the past two years. It now controls around 56% of the market.
"It took its eye off the ball," said Morningstar analyst Erin Lash.
Despite its ubiquity and $65 billion in sales last year, the 180-year-old P&G has been stuck in a slump.
Once one of the most widely held stocks in America, Procter & Gamble shares have flatlined over the past three years even as the Dow has gained nearly 40%. Revenue has fallen in key product areas.
Americans have been spending less on household goods over the last few quarters even though consumer confidence is at a 17-year high.
Peltz argued he had the track record to help P&G get back on track, having led successful turnarounds at companies such as Heinz, Wendy's, Mondelez and Snapple.
Now that Peltz has a seat at the table, expect a flurry of activity in 2018 from this old behemoth.
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