Clorox Co. posted second-quarter earnings Wednesday that gleamed against the backdrop of a dreary corporate landscape and economic woes that have intensified.
Oakland-based Clorox earned $86 million, or 62 cents a share, and generated sales of $1.22 billion for the October-December quarter that ended Dec. 31. Profits beat the estimates of analysts surveyed by 5 cents a share. Analysts had expected sales to be flat, but sales rose 3 percent. Profits fell 6.5 percent.
"We are not recession proof, but we are recession resistant," Donald Knauss, Clorox's chairman and chief executive, said in an interview with this paper. "Most of our categories have not been impacted by the economic downturn."
Clorox also announced that it would eliminate 170 jobs worldwide — including roughly 75 in Oakland — over the next 18 months. The reductions amount to about 2 percent of Clorox's workforce of 8,300.
But those employment reductions weren't due to current economic conditions. Rather, they result from a long-range quest to transform the operating model for Clorox.
Company officials believe Clorox is benefiting from consumer decisions to retrench spending during the recession.
"People are staying at home, cleaning their homes, preparing more products and food at home," Knauss said. "As people stay home more, those tailwinds benefit us."
During the quarter, higher prices bolstered the company's sales and profits. Clorox also expects that its gross margins will widen this year due to cost-cutting and lower prices for raw materials. Thanks to sharp reductions in petroleum costs, the price of resin fell 25 percent during the quarter.
But the dismal shopping season did jolt Clorox during the final three months of 2008, company executives said during a conference call to discuss the financial results. And a stronger dollar made Clorox's products more expensive for overseas customers.
"The holiday shopping season was one of the weakest on record and the significant pullback by retailers on inventory levels is quite historic," said Daniel Heinrich, the company's chief financial officer. "Retailers are under severe pressure."
Yet Clorox has been able to build market share in five out of eight categories, Knauss said. Clorox has the number one brand in 11 out of 15 market segments.
"We have pretty robust brands," Knauss said. "That is a differentiating point for us."
Perhaps the most downbeat element of the earnings results was produced by word that Clorox intended to trim its global workforce. Clorox said it wanted to stretch the job cuts over 18 months to ease the pain of employment losses.
"We have had a hiring freeze in place for nine months," Knauss said. "We have tried to manage this as best we could through normal attrition."
Clorox believes the reductions are a crucial piece of a corporate makeover that should turn it into a more nimble enterprise.
"We think we have created an operating model that is more effective in managing the company," Knauss said. "We can get out of people's way and have decisions made more quickly."
Investors embraced the quarterly results.
"They did well enough in a really tough economic environment," said Constance Maneaty, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets. "Nobody would be disappointed with the results Clorox posted. Sales growth was a little bit better than we were expecting."
Clorox's shares jumped 1.7 percent, rising 88 cents to finish at $52.70 Wednesday.
"We feel pretty good about how we delivered in a tough market," Knauss said.
Reach George Avalos at 925-977-8477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.