Categories Consumer, Earnings Call Transcripts

Kimberly-Clark Corporation (KMB) Q3 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

KMB Earnings Call - Final Transcript

Kimberly-Clark Corporation (NYSE: KMB) Q3 2021 earnings call dated Oct. 25, 2021

Corporate Participants:

Taryn Miller — Vice President, Finance and Interim Head of Investor Relations

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

Analysts:

Dara Mohsenian — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Lauren Lieberman — Barclays — Analyst

Chris Carey — Wells Fargo Securities — Analyst

Kevin Grundy — Jefferies — Analyst

Peter Grom — UBS — Analyst

Steve Powers — Deutsche Bank — Analyst

Nik Modi — RBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Jason English — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

Andrea Teixeira — JPMorgan — Analyst

Presentation:

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience and holding. We now have your presenters in conference. [Operator Instructions]

It is now my pleasure to introduce today’s first presenter, Taryn Miller.

Taryn Miller — Vice President, Finance and Interim Head of Investor Relations

Thank you, and good morning everyone. Welcome to Kimberly Clark’s third quarter earnings conference call.

On the call with me today are, Mike Hsu, our Chairman and CEO; and Maria Henry, our CFO. Earlier this morning, we issued our earnings news release and we also published prepared management remarks from Mike and Maria that summarized our third quarter results and full year 2021 outlook. Both documents are available in the Investors section of our website. We hope you find it valuable to have our prepared remarks ahead of this call.

In just a moment, Mike will share a few opening comments and then we’ll take your questions. During this call, we may make forward-looking statements. Please see the Risk Factors section of our latest Annual Report on Form 10-K for further discussion of forward-looking statements. We may also refer to adjusted results and outlook both excludes certain items described in this morning’s news release. The release has further information about these adjustments and reconciliations to comparable GAAP financial measures.

Now, I’ll turn it over to Mike.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Okay, thank you, Taryn. Good morning, everyone. Before we get to your questions, I’d like to offer some perspective on our third quarter and further actions we’re taking in response to this dynamic and challenging macro environment. Organic sales were strong of 4% in the quarter and included the impact of pricing actions implemented in the second and third quarters. In North America Personal Care organic sales were, up 11%, driven by mid single-digit increases in both net selling price and volume.

In D&E markets personal care, organic sales were up 7% organic sales increased double digits in Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Eastern Europe and South Africa. Our top line performance was strong despite the resurgence of COVID, which impacted growth in ASEAN, Latin American and KC Professional. Our market positions remain strong and are improving reflecting strong innovation and excellent commercial execution in nearly all key markets. Our share positions in North America remain solid with good sequential gains in personal care, our share performance in D&E markets remains robust, where we continue to strengthen our diaper leadership positions in key markets including China and Brazil.

We also continue to focus on cost with our teams delivering solid savings of $150 million in the quarter. In addition, we reduced between the line spending. Now, clearly our margins and earnings were disappointing, as higher inflation and supply chain disruptions increased our costs well beyond the expectation we established just last quarter.

I’d like to highlight the effect of three areas of volatility that are most impacting our business. First, as we noted in July and on the basis of external forecast we had expected, commodity prices to ease in the second half of 2021 instead prices for resin and pulp increased further in the third quarter and are now expected to stabilize at a meaningfully higher level than our prior estimate.

Second, a tight US labor market and disruption in domestic and international transportation markets are having an elevated impact on our supply chain as we work to get our products to the shelf and meet consumer demand.

Third, energy cost were up dramatically in Europe, where natural gas prices have risen as high as 6 times year-ago levels. Energy prices in North America are also up sharply, although not to the same extent.

As a result, our margins are down — but we’re down with declines only partially mitigated by the actions we’ve taken to-date. We’re not pleased with our results and we’re taking further action to mitigate the impact of higher input and labor costs. These steps include further pricing actions, additional initiatives to ensure we achieve our cost savings goals, and tightening discretionary spending. At the same time, we remain committed to investing in our brands and commercial capabilities. While we expect to see some benefit from these actions in 2021, we have further reduced our outlook for the year. This reflects our third quarter performance and our expectations for the fourth quarter.

And while we’re not ready to call our outlook for 2022, I will offer perspective on key variables that will affect our plan next year. First, we continue to build top line momentum. In addition, our pricing actions, brand investment and commercial program should provide further benefit in 2022. Second, some discrete headwinds we faced this year will be behind us. This includes the US winter storm and presumably consumer tissue destocking. Third, some headwinds we faced this year may become more persistent, we’re now expecting further inflation on several key commodities, we’re also expecting continued tightness in the labor and transportation markets, which will continue to impact our global supply chain all the way to our customers.

In addition, the going forward impact of COVID on both demand and supply remains very unpredictable. We will continue to move decisively and navigate changing market conditions. We will also continue to invest in our brands and capabilities to maintain brand momentum. Our strategy is working and we remain confident in our future and are confident in our ability to create long-term shareholder value.

Now we’d like to address your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. At this time, we will open the floor for questions. [Operator Instructions] Thank you. Our first question comes from Dara Mohsenian with Morgan Stanley.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Dara.

Dara Mohsenian — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Hey guys, how are you?

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good, it’s been better.

Dara Mohsenian — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Yes, yes. Yes, tough environment. So you mentioned further pricing actions Mike, could you just be a little more specific there maybe review what you’ve done globally in terms of percent of portfolio, magnitude of increases generally where you’ve taken increases. And maybe just some insight in terms of the forward pricing? Are you looking at it more on a product category basis, geographic basis. But just as you think about the forward pricing any more insight would be helpful.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, okay. Still in talk with our — maybe I’ll start a little bit philosophically. And I would say, based on our strategy improving margins as a core aspect of KC 2022 for us. And so we’ve taken further actions to offset inflation. I mean, and I believe margin improvement is a fundamental pillar of what we need to do for the company. And so we expect to fully offset inflation with both pricing and cost reduction, so a combination. And while we took the fully offset that over time. So we announced some further actions in Q3. The year-to-date our actions are fairly broad reaching, every region, every business generally. I wouldn’t actually not every single business, but generally across most markets.

And so in Q3, we’ve announced broader actions in North America, professional and consumer Latin America and other market selectively. So I would say pretty far-reaching. I will tell you Dara, our earlier pricing actions are generally on track as you saw, kind of, in the release, we had 3 points of price factor in organic in the quarter, we have seen some other brands move particularly in North America, haven’t seen significant movement in private label yet. Although, I’ll note that, that typically occurs a little bit later. And we’ve had a little share softness. But in general, I think our volumes are holding up well.

Dara Mohsenian — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Okay. And on the advertising side, certainly you’ve cut back a bit in this tire commodity environment. Is there a point when you get concerned, then maybe you’ve cut back a bit too much. Obviously, you mentioned the market share results remain healthy. But how do you sort of think about flexing that line item, then were share of voices today in the categories you’re competing in?

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, I mean — I think you could probably see it in the release. I mean, we feel very good about our organic performance, I think our brands are very fundamentally healthy and I think our investment in both innovation and commercial programing especially advertising are working very hard for us. So we’re going to obviously work hard to make sure our margins improve. But we want to maintain that investment in the brands, especially where it’s working.

That said, we have made some adjustments in some categories where it felt like it was perhaps a little less effective in the current environment and so to that extent we’ve done that. We have trends are between the line spend a little bit, but that — I would tell you that’s been more on the G&A front and on the A&CP front in the quarter. So [Technical Issues] if there’s something to point out.

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

Yes, I think, I describe it as we’re being very pragmatic here, we had some challenges on our supply chain side that are affecting us. And so we have challenges getting the product to our customers and where we’ve got higher demand than we can for sale at the moment, because of the supply chain challenges. We’re really looking at what are the near-term returns on our investments. And we’ve been prioritizing those as we look at the current situation. And so we’ve trimmed the advertising investment a bit, but that’s on the back of significant step-ups over the last two years. And when I look at the year, our expectation is that on a dollar basis we’ll be up nicely from where we were in 2019.

Dara Mohsenian — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Okay, and then last question, just as we look out, obviously there is a lot of volatility from a commodity cost standpoint and things have been moving in own direction and you’re taking a lot of pricing to help offset that. Is there a certain point, you can look out to where you think the year-over-year pricing, at least based on the plans that are in place today, as well as spot commodities where we are today, where you are able to fully offset it on a year-over-year basis. Obviously, there is still, you know, there is a big gap leaving this year, but I’m wondering on sort of more a go-forward basis. Is it more in the middle of next year when you think you have enough pricing to offset year-over-year commodity increases? Could it be earlier than that? How do you sort of think through that conceptually understanding there’ll be some gap leaving this year, but when on a year-over-year basis that we sort of get to an ability maybe to offset some of these cost pressures from your vantage point?

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, Dara, I mean, that’s why we’ve been saying we’ll offset or get our margins back in line and improving over time with both pricing and cost reduction. I think the middle of next year is probably a good, kind of, perspective for us, because obviously what happened this year was, you know, we won — we saw the change in the commodity line, obviously coming out of the first quarter. And so we announced pricing that was effective or we announced it at the end of the first quarter and it was effective in our second quarter of this year. Certainly coupon have moved significantly since then, and so we’ve made additional actions and that’s going to take us time to implement fully, so that’s one component.

The other component, I will tell you that looking forward is, and I think we indicated this about 2-22 is that the global supply chain is under pressure and we do expect cost to remain elevated for a period, not all costs. Certainly, I think there are some fundamentals in the eucalyptus market that would say, hey, there is more capacity coming along, so that should come back a little bit. But the polymer-based products seem like they’re going to remain elevated for a little while. We mentioned US labor costs and pressures on transportation globally. I think that’s going to remain elevated for a while, because I don’t see a fundamental catalyst to change that in the near-term. And so that’s why we’re making some barbells.

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

Yes, I would add it. It will depend on the — where commodities go and any pricing actions that we take from here. So I might be a little bit more cautious than the middle of next year in terms of margin recovery. But we’ll have to see how the dynamics play out, I think at this point it’s too early to call, what I would say is we understand the situation, we understand what the drivers are and we’ll manage through it with an eye toward recovering on margins overtime.

Dara Mohsenian — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

That’s helpful. Thanks, I’ll get back in queue.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Lauren Lieberman with Barclays.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Lauren.

Lauren Lieberman — Barclays — Analyst

Thanks very much. Good morning. I wanted to just focus in a little bit on the supply chain disruption, you know, mentioned briefly in the prepared remarks and you guys just spoke to the bit. So — and it’s also impacting your sales outlook for this year. So was hoping you could give us a little bit more color on what categories are we talking about? Is it you’re not able to procure inputs? Or is it about not being able to get from your factory to the store effectively on which element of supply chain is under pressure and what categories, should we be looking for that pressure and particularly next quarter?

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Okay, well, maybe I’ll start and Maria has probably got much more detail. But I would just not to be flip one, but it is affecting almost, kind of, all areas of our operation. I mean, certainly, I think you can clearly see on fiber and resin base the commodity challenges and so I think that’s, kind of, well established and visible for you all. I think maybe — would maybe as a little less clear is, kind of, how it’s rolling through and what I mentioned labor markets and the transportation markets it ripples through and my take would be, it looks like COVID appears to have increased the demand for goods over the past year or so and as shifting expanded a little bit from services to goods.

And so with that, the other effect of COVID is — and you’ve read all the articles about the great resignation, whether that’s the case, or whether it’s more that there are a lot more options for hourly work, it has really tightened the hourly labor supply and so because of that that pressure on both sides increased demands means much more demand for containers or trucking less labor means fewer drivers to drive the trucks and because of that, as you noted in our third — even in our third quarter, while our service levels are improving significantly, we were not able to get all our orders out the door on the timeline that we want it.

And because of that, that rolls through in multiple ways: one, is we pay higher rates for employees; higher wages — we’re paying higher rates for transportation, it’s rolling through in some cases, our employee tenure is — has shortened dramatically and so it’s changing how we staff, because we have to staff more people to get the product out the door. We’ve got production outages, mis-deliveries and that ripples through with fines and everything else with customers, and so there’s just too many ways that I think both this pressure on the labor side and the transportation markets, kind of, ripples through the cost, and that’s kind of why you’re seeing a little softness in our FORCE delivery. Most of that was because of the elevated cost.

I don’t know, Maria do you have more to add?

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

Yes. No, I think that was pretty, pretty thorough is basically across the board, getting supply into our mills, getting supply out of our mills, getting the products moved around the distribution network, lots of challenges on the warehouse side. We need to hire in a normal time if we have 30 people given the inefficiencies with the labor and turnover, we might need to have 40 people just to get the same amount of product out the door as an example. So if some — across the board, primarily in North America although in the UK, there’s also distribution challenges, it’s another market where it impacted our sales in the quarter and that also has to do with labor-related to Brexit. So it’s — I’ve never seen a supply chain environment like this and it’s affecting us across the P&L.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. And, Lauren, one thing I’ll add is, I don’t know that there is a — I think we said in the notes, not a short-term solution here, because it does feel like it’s based on fundamentals, which is — there is more demand for goods and I think we’re seeing that many categories beyond consumer. And then there is — it does feel like there’s more options for hourly employment and because of that, that’s putting pressure on the labor markets and hiring for the roles that we need, right?

Lauren Lieberman — Barclays — Analyst

Yes, okay. And so when you also mentioned about, I think it was in the prepared remarks that investing in the supply chain to meet demand. This is what we’re talking, it’s just absorbing these higher cost, it’s not structural capex type investment, it’s investment, meaning an incremental workers and so on?

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes.

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

Right. It’s the P&L and that’s been — and then I think I’ve mentioned that before in terms of overall investment in capex and where those dollars, like going on part — going to that part of the investment is in digital supply chain and that’s been a driver of our capex and we’ll continue to be for several years and when we — even when we looked at things like the S4 HANA upgrade, we’ve ramped a lot of supply chain, digital capabilities into that program. But that’s not new news.

Lauren Lieberman — Barclays — Analyst

Okay, great. I’ll leave it there. So that was a lot that you gave me. So thanks very much.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Okay, thanks, Lauren.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Chris Carey with Wells Fargo Securities.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Chris.

Chris Carey — Wells Fargo Securities — Analyst

Hey, good morning. Thanks so much. So a couple of category questions actually. On the Personal Care side, can you just maybe expand a bit on the strength that we’re seeing in the business? There’s been a lot of commentary around challenged birth rates and the business continues to see strong growth. I think North American [Indecipherable] volumes this quarter. Our forecast is wrong, you know, for the birth rates this year or certain income tax is doing better? Is stimulus offset the impact of the job losses. Just any perspective you might be able to provide around why that business seems to be doing better?

And then just add on the second kind of category question here. I mean, I appreciate that the tissue business, the Consumer Tissue business is seeing difficult constant continued destocking, but there has been some losses. I wonder, if you could just expand upon that as well? So there is one on the Personal Care side and then on the tissue side as well, please.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. So overall, Chris, our brand fundamentals are strong and really improving. And I think it’s really based on differentiated innovation and excellent local commercial program, really this driver and I think our brands are about as healthy as I’ve seen as far as long as I’ve been here. Obviously, not all of them are working the way that we would like to work. But in general, our brands are performing quite well.

The birth rate issue you mentioned in diapers is real. Although there’s a couple of dimensions of that, which is one, certainly a big decline in birth rate in China. Five years ago, there were about 17 million or 18 million births and this year it looks like they’ll be about 10-ish, right somewhere in that range. And that said, it’s still going to be a big market, right? And still the largest diaper market in the world for a long time. So that’s one thing, that’s one on the downside. The US on the contrast, because there was a little bit of declining versus last year that accelerated because of COVID, actually slightly up this year. And actually, we’re seeing through the first couple of quarters and the projection is moving toward modest growth in the second half is — so that’s a bit of positive news.

But the overall, I think, the reason why you’re seeing strong performance on Personal Care is more what I talked about previously, which is strong innovation pipeline and strong, strong local programming on the commercial side. And with the teams, we’ll say, it’s not anyone thing, it’s the combination of a plan meaning great innovation back with great marketing, great sales plan and local execution all working together. And I think, the numbers you may have seen, but Personal Care is accelerating globally. It was up 9.25% with a strong recovery in North America that was up 11%. And then we’ll continue to see that strong performance across D&E in most markets.

Making good progress in KC Professional is well, that was up 12% with North America being up 16%, and a healthy balance of both price and volume. And then consumer tissue although still down in the quarter was down 6% and down in North America, I’d say that was stabilizing. Our consumption in North America was better than our organic and that’s because we are cycling a big year ago customer or consumer inventory built that happened in the third quarter. Little bit happened in the fourth quarter last year as well. So we’re cycling that, but I’d say — I would say, the good news on consumer tissue globally, it feels like it’s stabilizing.

We have given up a little share in North America, we probably picked up a little share last year on bath tissue, because we had a little more availability, our teams were scrambling to put out as much output if they could as we felt like there was a lot of consumer need for our products last year, and so we did that and we probably gave back a little share. But again, I think overall, we feel like consumer tissue certainly stabilizing versus what we saw in the first and second quarters.

Chris Carey — Wells Fargo Securities — Analyst

If I could just — thanks for that. If I could just have one follow-up just on the pricing in Consumer Tissue, I was surprised to see it come in relatively low given the magnitude of the inflation that is historic as you mentioned number of times today. Is that just a function of timing? Was there a promotional event in the quarter that offset some of the pricing? Do you expect that to build significantly from here, just any perspective or is that a function of — some of the market share issues you’re seeing it? Maybe in our pricing as much as [Technical Issues] a, perspective, you might be able to just provide on the pricing in the consumer tissue business? And maybe how you see that shaping up in the very near-term. Thanks a lot.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, consumer tissue, particularly in North America we’ll build as the year goes and into next year. And so, yes, so there was not that much in this year and then we did have a little additional trade investment versus a year ago. And so that offsets some of it, but we expect that to continue to build as the year goes.

Chris Carey — Wells Fargo Securities — Analyst

Okay, thanks so much.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Okay. Thank you, Chris.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Kevin Grundy with Jefferies.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Kevin.

Kevin Grundy — Jefferies — Analyst

Great. Hey, good morning, Mike. Good morning, Maria.

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

Good morning.

Kevin Grundy — Jefferies — Analyst

Mike, I wanted to come back just on market share, you touched on a moment ago and you didn’t seem overly concerned about the US as we look at the Nielsen data, it’s down across the board for the most part in the most recent four weeks and 12 weeks. And to your point, Mike, it has been more pronounced in Tissue Intel, but it’s not entirely in Tissue Intel. So I just wanted to, kind of, get your opinion, your view on where you stand in the US, your relative satisfaction? How you believe your supply chain may or may not be more impacted or impacted to a greater degree by some of the supply chain issues out there? And how you’re thinking about just broadly to a question earlier, just pulling back on spending in light of some of the market share trends, which I suspect, you’re probably not where you hope they would be, but I can stop there and then I have a follow-up.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

No, no. Thank you for keeping us up for honest on the shares. But, you know, when I would say, we’re improving from a tight supply situation and so that’s probably the big thing. And so we’re recovering really well. I think we have for the year up or even in four-way categories in North America, that’s a little less than, kind of, what I would like. But seven of eight sequentially, so we’re making progress. And so, if you remember Kevin, we had really tight supply situation towards the end of the first quarter and that flowed through the whole second quarter. We’re down mid single-digit share points, I think in diapers at that point. So the team has really done a nice job recovering. I think in diapers, we were up 340 basis points sequentially in the quarter and just about even maybe a little bit less than even on share overall in the quarter. So we feel good about the recovery, I think we’re making good progress in adult care.

Tissue as I mentioned on the back tissue side, we’re a little soft, because we had maybe a little elevated share that I was hoping to hold on to, but we haven’t held on to it. But that was more due to availability. Kleenex is up pretty good, pretty substantially and we feel good about that all of the category is down. And then on towels, we’re down about a little over a point. The issue there is we — given supply conditions, we have shifted some of our supply of production from towels to bath and that’s caused part of that. So overall, I would say that the brands are moving in the right direction not all, but we feel like we have the right plans in place and we’re going to exchange to make progress.

Kevin Grundy — Jefferies — Analyst

Got it, got it. Thanks, Mike. And then a quick follow-up for both of you, just on trade promotion. Mike, I think you made a comment that — between the line spending was down, I believe that you said or maybe down sequentially, just clarify on that? It’s not just Kimberly-Clark, but broadly for CPG, they continued to — promotion levels are moving higher and understandably moving higher off of lower bases in the prior year.

But sort of triangulating that with the cost environment, what is sort of the logic between the CPG companies and retailers at this point to move trade promotion higher like is there a right level? Is the normalization we want to get back to pre-pandemic levels and sort of if so why, like what is the sense behind that, particularly in the current environment? And then I’ll pass it on. Thank you.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Okay, Kevin maybe I’ll comment on the trade and Maria, maybe comment on between the lines. But one, yes, in North America in particular, I think the promotion levels have moved back to “typical levels”. The percent — as measured by percent promo sold on — or percent sold on promotion was down 50% to 75% last year, as we all curtailed promotions because of demand. At this point, I’d say it’s returned to historical levels both in Personal Care, which happened about the third quarter of last year and then in consumer tissue, this quarter or the third quarter of this year.

Yes, philosophically what I do think, retailers do believe brand switching occurs with brands and so promotions continue to be important in our categories. There is potentially some share shifting. Frankly, my emphasis would be on — what I call the high road approach of growing brands, which is growing brands through great innovation and marketing and using trade and promotion as a fundamental element of that to support what we’re doing from a marketing perspective. But I don’t really value share from promotional loan.

And so in general, we’re going to be focusing on being efficient with how we spend our promotions and being disciplined about it. Especially, Kevin, as you might imagine in this environment, we’re certainly pricing and price realizations important given what’s happening with the cost front.

Kevin Grundy — Jefferies — Analyst

Got it. Thanks, Mike.

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

And then on the rest of — just generally on between the lines for the quarter at 15.6%, that’s low. And the main driver of that is around incentive comp. As you can imagine with the updated forecast, the incentive payments will be meaningfully lower. And in the third quarter, we not only step those down, but we also had basically an accrual adjustment true-up from the first half. So there was a sizable benefit on incentive comp reflected in the third quarter, and I will call out that we expect in the fourth quarter that the — between the lines will step back up. And that’s two things, we won’t have the incentive comp true-up accrual, and seasonally our SG&A runs higher in the fourth quarter than in the rest of the year.

Kevin Grundy — Jefferies — Analyst

Got it. Thank you, both. It’s so seemingly, Mike, it’s — the retailers that are driving more of this, just not to put words in your mouth, but it seems like there is an appetite there among the retailers to normalize the categories, is that fair?

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Well, I don’t — I wouldn’t put it all at retailers. I mean, I think, the manufacturers also rely on it as well. Maybe, certainly, my kind of attitude or philosophy before it is I think I’ve said it before. I don’t like to rent share through promotion. If we can use promotion to drive the trial that we won on our innovation, I’m supportive of that. And so that’s a little bit. I think, I may have a slightly different take than others, but I wouldn’t lay it at the bit of our customers. They’re great partners. Our categories matter to them. And obviously, they matter a lot to us and so, so it’s a symbiotic relationship.

Kevin Grundy — Jefferies — Analyst

Understood. Thank you for all the color. I appreciate it. Good luck.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Peter Grom with UBS.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Peter.

Peter Grom — UBS — Analyst

Hey, good morning. Maria, and Mike, I just kind of want to go back to the 2022 margin recovery and maybe just a housekeeping one. First, I’d like following upon Dara’s question, the halfway through the year or maybe a little bit longer is when you expect margin expansion. Is that year-over-year or when do you expect margins to return to more normal historical levels and is that gross margin or operating margin? My thought would be expansion in gross margin, but just wanted to confirm.

And then this is a bit more conceptual, but I just want to understand, how you think about adding back advertising next year, particularly as of the supply constraint get better gross margin improves, like how do you balance, you know, recovery of operating margins back to the high-teens versus reinvesting back in the business to set yourself up for growth in years to come, particularly given the lower spend you will be cycling this year? Thanks.

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

Sure, Peter, I’ll start and then Mike can chime in. Though next year, we’ll have some interesting dynamics and it’s probably going to be a bit of a tale to have when you look at the first half of this year and the second half of this year, that’s going to drive some year-over-year comps that will have some different dynamics.

And as I said, we’ll have to see really how commodities play out and how pricing plays out, and I would characterize it as we’ll look to recover margins over time, we are very focused on margin recovery, and exactly when that’s going to happen, I’m not prepared to say, but we’ll have a lot more to say on that in January when we have three months more of visibility and three months more of additional actions that will take as the management team. We’re working through our 2022 planning cycle now. And so, we’re pulling that together, and given the volatility and the lack of visibility that we’ve had, it’s too early to call the year, but we’ll give you our best view in January.

And Mike, I think, you can probably comment on advertising and how you see that unfolding.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Peter, we’ve actually increased our advertising investment significantly over the last few years, and we feel good about that and clearly, I think, that showing up in the numbers in terms of the organic growth and the overall health of the brands that we’ve — as I’ve talked about earlier on this call. So we feel good about that. I would say at this point, we will look to continue to build out, we’re probably operating kind of in the 5% plus or minus 5% range of sales. And still little lower than our primary competitors. I would like that to be higher over time. Although, we’ll probably never will match some of our competitors at the same level they will, but I still think we can productively invest more and make that a win-win for the brand, while growing our margins at the same time.

The unique thing about advertising in this environment or kind of as digital’s unfolds that is the returns are much better than they historically have been. And so we continue to improve our efficiencies, we’re getting better at that. And so for us, we’re going to continue to look for ways to grow the business and that’s going to include through advertising investments. At the same time, Maria, and I will also work to deliver a balanced plan that will deliver as we just mentioned margin improvement over time while delivering improved organic growth.

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

Yes, and I’d add that [Speech Overlap] even outside of advertising, and when we look at between the lines and spending, I commented earlier, but embedded in there. I should note beyond incentive compensation dynamics, we are reducing other discretionary spending including in the, kind of, core SG&A and at the same time, we’re continuing to invest primarily around IT digital types of investments and our commercial capability development. And so on the P&L, you don’t see the full net effect of the actions that we’re taking there, because we are continuing to invest, we — the commodity inflation ran up on us quickly it was far in excess of what we expected in the third quarter, but we are continuing to make investments in the company for the long-term and we’re very committed to what — to doing that and focused on the long-term health of the company and the brands.

Peter Grom — UBS — Analyst

Great, thank you so much, and best of luck.

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

Thanks.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Steve Powers with Deutsche Bank.

Steve Powers — Deutsche Bank — Analyst

Yes. Hey guys.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Hey, Steve.

Steve Powers — Deutsche Bank — Analyst

Hey, Mike. So could you talk a little bit about FORCE savings? It’s coming a little bit — the lower end of your plan. And against the rising cost back up I guess I’ve been sort of talked to think of those two numbers as positively correlated. So as cost inflation goes up your procurement savings tend to also increase, obviously, we’re not seeing that right at this moment. So is that — what do I — what should I glean from that? And in the near-term and is it temporary? Does that reaccelerate — this FORCE savings reaccelerate into ’22, because timing issue or is it some kind of indication that you are starting to run out of runway on FORCE?

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

Sure. We’re definitely not running out of runway on FORCE. And we continue to see opportunities in the supply chain and some of the digital supply chain investments that I referenced earlier in the call will help us unlock those opportunities. The FORCE cost savings for this year is really affected by the supply chain challenges that we’ve been facing, which are a headwind for our cost savings and it’s related to production and distribution inefficiencies caused by demand volatility and also the logistics issues that we’ve been talking about.

The way that the FORCE cost savings program works is, of the negotiated material prices, a piece of it, which I’ll come back and talk about in a minute. And then we have core productivity, and our supply chain operations, as well as product revisions to achieve design to value savings. So in the quarter, we had very good savings associated with the negotiated material prices. We also had benefits from productivity improvements and product changes, but not as much as we were hoping and you have to net positive in terms of total delivered cost for it to count as FORCE cost savings. So as you have headwinds coming in, they offset the gross FORCE cost savings that we would report. And that’s really what we’re seeing now. The headwinds that are flowing through manufacturing are dampening the net results of FORCE, but they’re strong growth savings there.

The other issue that we’ve got on FORCE is our supply chain folks are very focused on managing through this near-term environment to get product produced and to get it to customers. So we can get in the hands of consumers and that leaves less time for our employees to be working on productivity initiatives within the supply chain. So it’s really those two things that are lowering the FORCE cost savings number for this year. But we have a healthy amount of room to go in terms of driving supply chain productivity as we move forward.

Steve Powers — Deutsche Bank — Analyst

Got it. So playing it back, is the bottlenecks on the supply chain hopefully alleviate themselves then you have essentially some pent-up FORCE savings, that should come to the surface?

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

We do, and I should go back to the other part of your question, right? There is really two pieces of those FORCE cost savings, the negotiated material prices, our savings are much higher this year given the contract structure versus the rapid inflation on the commodity side. Those contracts get reset on a regular basis. So it will be reset at higher levels. So when I look forward, I wouldn’t expect as much benefit as we had this year. Because if you think about where we were coming into 2020 versus where commodities went, we got a sizable benefit in FORCE guys [Phonetic] there this year. So that’s the piece of it. But on the core productivity, I would expect us to have more savings on that part of it as we move forward.

Steve Powers — Deutsche Bank — Analyst

Got it. Okay, perfect. And then if I could pivot, you talk to the incremental pricing and Mike you touched upon through the views on trade and promo in the conversation with Kevin. But I guess I was looking to think about next year and whether the path to margin recovery is really list price-focused? Or if there are sizable revenue growth management opportunities that you have around the list price, and just what the balance of that is, as you sort of think about just the building blocks into 2022?

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. It’s all of that. So great question, Steve, and great perspective. I think, I would share yours which is I think it’s a balanced deployment. Obviously, this year we went with list, because it can be a little quicker and a little more efficient to implement for both us and our customers.

That said, I think long-term in our categories I would say for us it would be a combination of list pack, right, pack counts and pack architecture right and sizing, and then also promotion strategy, right? And I think all those are fertile ground for us. I’ve been talking about our revenue growth management for a couple of years now. We’re still early in the journey and getting better at it. But we have a lot of great tools globally that we’re using to support our planning and I think we’re getting more and more disciplined about it. And again I think the balance across the levers will be important for us into next year, but I think going forward.

Steve Powers — Deutsche Bank — Analyst

Great. Thanks to you both. Appreciate it.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Steve.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Nik Modi with RBC Capital Markets.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Nik.

Nik Modi — RBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Yes, thanks. Good morning. So, Mike, just a question on price elasticity. Obviously, things have looked pretty good, the consumers are on pretty good shape. But I stimulus kind of fades all that cash these consumers are sitting on starts to dwindle as we get into 2022. How are you guys thinking about potential pricing and price elasticity? Just I feel like more is going to need to happen, because we all — I think get the joke here that costs are going to continue to rise. And so I just wanted to get an understanding. Do you have any strategies in place to, kind of, minimizing the amount of price shock that some of these consumers might be — as we get into 2022?

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, I mean, Nick, I was just talking about with Steve again I think we’ve investing a lot of tools and so at this point, I think our elasticity modeling is pretty good fairly accurate. I would say, given our categories Nik that the elasticity tends to be a little less when realized than what predicted, just because if you look at these — bad tissue the consumption doesn’t change that much. Maybe the value-tier you purchase at may shift a little bit. And so there is that dynamic, but we are sensitive towards that and it’s also whilst what’s core to our strategy is developing a great value proposition to our consumer, and so we’re always cognizant of that.

And I think one of the things that we’ve done in many markets around the world is offer a great proposition on both the value side and also the premium side. And while our strategy, generally is to elevate our categories and expand our categories, I do think pricing in our categories with the premiumization of our categories is a little less than some of the others that I worked in the past, so I still think there’s room to grow.

However, we want to be able to shift and that’s what we’ve done in a market like Latin America. And one of the reasons why we’ve grown share this year is because we’ve been able to pivot between our premium tier and our value-tier. For reference, two years ago we are making a student body left to go premium and we shifted a significant portion of our mix in Brazil from value to premium and over the past 18-months, we’ve been shifting it back the other way, because that’s what the consumer needs. And so we’re really cognizant of that, we’re aware of the elasticities. Thus far, I would say, our volumes have held up, although I think what’s really happening is we’re seeing the intended elasticity, but we do have brands growth initiatives that are offsetting some elasticity impact.

Nik Modi — RBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Great. Thank you. Pass it on.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

All right. Thanks, Nik.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Jason English with Goldman Sachs.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Jason.

Jason English — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

Hey, good morning, folks. Thanks for swapping me in. Two questions, first, just a follow-up for clarification. I thought Dara asked when you expect price and cost to be effectively net neutral. I don’t think he asked when do you expect margins recovery? I think most of the answers have been around margin recovery. But — so can you clarify you’re not expecting price to be caught up with costs until the back half of next year or not even, like even that’s too optimistic. It’s somewhere beyond the midpoint of next year when price actually catches up with cost ceteris paribus?

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

I think we’ll hold on the 2022 comments until we get to January and then we’ll have more to say about that once we have three months more visibility into what’s happening in the commodity market, what’s happening with price that’s either in the market or will be in the market and we’ll give you our best view there. I don’t think it’s productive to speculate on that right at this point given the volatility.

Jason English — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

Yes, I’m just trying to — tell me what you actually said. Because I think I’ve heard like two different explanations on next year. So if you actually said [Technical Issues] had a lot in 2022. I’m just looking for a clarification on what you actually did say. But I appreciate if you don’t want to add more.

So pivoting back to just the core business then good momentum on personal care, I mean, you’re getting your price, your market shares are holding up the business has turned back to a degree of profit growth, all pretty encouraging. But the tissue business looks very different especially on the margin degradation side and the lack of price momentum. Can you elaborate on what’s holding you back on price? What actions have you taken? What is in market now and why we are not seeing more momentum on price so far?

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Again, I think what you’re seeing in Personal Care, we did moved very early on when we had our commodity forecast update in the first quarter and so we did move on that. At the time, I think the tissue side or the fiber side was less clear and so, I would say we probably moved a little slower on the tissue side. We have announced some broad pricing actions in multiple markets, since then and so that’s why I said earlier, Jason, that I would expect our tissue price realization to continue to improve as the year progresses.

Jason English — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

Have you raised prices in the US in tissue?

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

We announced some price changes in August with our retailers.

Jason English — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

Got it. Thank you.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks a lot.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Andrea Teixeira with JPMorgan.

Andrea Teixeira — JPMorgan — Analyst

Thank you. Good morning, everyone. So I have two questions, one is a follow-up on the supply chain disruptions looking ahead on availability of raw materials and transportation lines we believe those will linger into the first half of 2022 setting aside the pricing commentary that you may not be ready to just in terms of availability of raw materials and transportation?

And then a second one on the category growth between tracked and untracked channels. Did you see bricks growing faster than e-commerce, because of the tough comparisons in the quarter. And do you see the share issues that you alluded to in North America, mostly due to the fact that your competitors took longer to take pricing? Or is that more of a availability issue? Thank you.

Maria Henry — Chief Financial Officer

I’ll start with supply chain disruptions. I don’t see a near-term catalyst for them improving. I think the labor issues in the US are very real and that’s where we are feeling the brunt of the challenges on the supply chain side. More globally, I mentioned the UK market, but also with global shipping those issues are also quite challenging in a number of our markets.

But the most acute issues and meaningful cost increases versus what we had been expecting is in North America and in that the labor market in the US, I just don’t see a near-term catalyst. So I think the headwinds and the increased distribution costs will certainly be with us into 2022 and we’ll have to see all of this plays out, it’s not just affecting us of course, it’s affecting companies quite broadly and where we’re all dealing with these challenges.

And then Mike, on category and share, I’ll turn that one over to you.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Again, online continues to perform very well for us and then on track as well and so I think that’s probably why there’s probably discrepancy in our view of our market share performance, which we see as a little stronger than maybe what you might see and so overall, we feel very good about that and the category growth actually in both channels. And I think our brands are performing well the issue that we’ve had on share a couple of different areas in North America, it’s primarily been an issue around supply. And so, even though we’ve made substantial improvement in our fulfillment throughout the course of the year, we’re still not meeting all orders out there. And so our share is still a little light from that dimension.

And then in a couple of other markets, again, I think it is as you pointed out, maybe some relative price indices that have expand a little bit in the short-term. We’ve moved on pricing in most markets. And well, we’ve generally seen moves from branded competition, we haven’t seen that in all markets. And so there’s still a little softness we’re experiencing in Western Europe and in some markets in Latin America.

Andrea Teixeira — JPMorgan — Analyst

And Mike just to — and I appreciate you both. But just on the track channels and non-tracked, e-commerce how much it grew this quarter vis-a-vis last year and how much represents now globally. Well, if you have growth number that would be helpful.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Overall, globally, we’re probably in the mid to high-teens at this point, I don’t have the growth rate off hand. But yes, in the strong double digits, is what I would say.

Andrea Teixeira — JPMorgan — Analyst

On top of like I would — some also a very strong performance last year.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Strong performance last year, right. What the great new has been our fastest grower was our biggest market. So that was good last year. And so what — again, you know, online continues to be important and increasingly important and we’re operating very well there.

Andrea Teixeira — JPMorgan — Analyst

Okay, great. Thank you.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. There are no more questions at this time.

Michael D. Hsu — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Okay, well thank you all for taking the time to be with us today. We’re working hard to drive sustainable brand growth and taking further action to ensure that we improve our margins and earnings profile. So thank you all.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Disclaimer

This transcript is produced by AlphaStreet, Inc. While we strive to produce the best transcripts, it may contain misspellings and other inaccuracies. This transcript is provided as is without express or implied warranties of any kind. As with all our articles, AlphaStreet, Inc. does not assume any responsibility for your use of this content, and we strongly encourage you to do your own research, including listening to the call yourself and reading the company’s SEC filings. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed in this transcript constitutes a solicitation of the purchase or sale of securities or commodities. Any opinion expressed in the transcript does not necessarily reflect the views of AlphaStreet, Inc.

© COPYRIGHT 2021, AlphaStreet, Inc. All rights reserved. Any reproduction, redistribution or retransmission is expressly prohibited.

Most Popular

HP Inc. (HPQ) stock research summary | Q3 2021

HP Inc has shown a strong performance in Q4 2021. In spite of remote working, HP has shown a strong demand for PC and printer. The company has beat Zacks

VMware Inc. (VMW) stock research summary | Q3 2021

In this era of digital transformation, the technology industry is seeing a rapid influx of innovative products and solutions that help businesses adapt to the fast-changing and complex environment. VMware

IPO Alert: Cancer drug company Nuvectis Pharma set for $30-million IPO

After months of hectic activity, the IPO market experienced a lull in the Thanksgiving week, but it is still headed for a record year though the rush led by the

Add Comment
Loading...
Cancel
Viewing Highlight
Loading...
Highlight
Close
Top