Higher Prices Boost Kimberly-Clark 4Q Profit

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DALLAS (AP) – Kimberly-Clark Corp. said Friday that higher prices on products like Huggies diapers and higher sales volumes helped it lift its fourth-quarter profit. Flu season and promotions also helped lift sales of Kleenex brand tissues.

The company, based in Dallas, earned $492 million, or $1.17 per share, for the three months ended Dec. 31. That’s 17 percent higher than its profit of $419 million, or $1.01 per share, a year ago.

But Wall Street expected better. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters, who usually exclude one-time items, predicted Kimberly-Clark would earn $1.25 per share.

The company, which had said it would cut about 1,600 jobs by 2009’s end, incurred $6 million in severance and related costs during the quarter.

Sales jumped 8 percent to $4.98 billion, helped by a weaker dollar as well as the price hikes, and topped analysts’ forecast for $4.92 billion.

The higher prices initially compensated for higher ingredient costs, but Kimberly-Clark hasn’t rolled them back as those expenses fell.

The company’s personal care product sales rose 11.5 percent, with volume for Huggies diapers increasing 6 percent in North America. Consumer tissue product revenue edged up 0.9 percent, with Kleenex sales volumes climbing 7 percent in North America on promotional shipments and a “modest” benefit from winter’s cold and flu season.

Revenue increases were also reported for the health care products and professional and other products segments.

For the year, earnings rose 11 percent to $1.88 billion, or $4.52 per share, compared with $1.69 billion, or $4.03 per share, in the previous year.

The performance was in range of Kimberly-Clark’s prior guidance for 2009 profit between $4.50 and $4.60 per share.

Annual sales dipped 2 percent to $19.12 billion from $19.42 billion.

Looking ahead, the company anticipates a 2010 adjusted profit of $4.80 to $5 per share with revenue growth of 5 percent to 6 percent. Based on 2009 sales of $19.12 billion, that would imply revenue of approximately $20.1 billion to $20.27 billion for the year.

Analysts predict 2010 earnings of $5.14 per share on sales of $20.16 billion.

Kimberly-Clark, which had suspended its share buybacks, said it plans to start repurchasing stock in the first quarter and anticipates $500 million to $600 million in buybacks for the year. It also expects a high single-digit to low double-digit increase in its 2010 dividend.

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