Comment - Quick Take: PepsiCo Guns Blaze, Jury Out
PepsiCo has fired its expected salvo of job cuts and investment promises, but confidence cannot be rebuilt in a day.
It's going to be a year of fierce scrutiny for PepsiCo. Today (9 February), the soft drinks and snacks giant sought to subdue fears about its strategy, by promising lots of cost cutting and lots more brand investment. It will shed 8,700 jobs, cut US$1.5bn in costs within two years and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into brand marketing.
Confidence, though, is seldom rebuilt as quickly as it is knocked down. PepsiCo's share price slipped by 4% on the New York Stock Exchange following its announcement, which also included a full-year results statement.
Net profits rose by 2% for the year, to $6.46bn, with net sales up by 15%. Those are hardly the figures of a company in a pickle.
But, that only makes the situation more difficult for CEO Indra Nooyi and her immediate colleagues. They know that there are fundamental concerns about management's strategic thinking that go beyond individual results scores.
Analysts at Stifel Nicolaus said today: "We continue to be concerned by a pattern of declining returns on assets and what that signals about management’s decision making."
Nooyi is clearly aware of the problems. She said today that the board "fully recognises that we need to make changes in how we operate to address the challenges we identified in the review process". Meanwhile, PepsiCo director James Schiro was wheeled out to extinguish any lingering thoughts of coup. Speaking on behalf of the board, he said: "We are fully aligned with, and supportive of, management with respect to both the strategic direction of the company and also the initiatives being announced today."
In 2012, the group has given itself a sabbatical from the rigours of annual profit chasing, to try to work things out. Nooyi has described the next 12 months as a "transition year" for the company. Beginning 2013, the aim is high single-digit profits growth, at constant currency levels, and stronger dividends for shareholders.
There was no grand display on "performance with purpose" here, an initiative that is supposed to stop PepsiCo focusing purely on a narrow group of shareholders, and which the firm was keen to trumpet last year. At the time, Nooyi made interesting comments about capitalism with responsibility. It would be a shame if this message were to fall by the wayside.
Today's announcement, though, is all about that group of shareholders; and they are reserving judgement, for now.
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