After today's results, is Unilever plc a better pick than PZ Cussons plc?

The Motley Fool
PZ Cussons Morning Fresh promotional picture
PZ Cussons Morning Fresh promotional picture

Anyone doubting the investment appeal of Unilever (LSE: ULVR) need only look at the newspaper headlines surrounding the firm's price spat with Tesco(LSE: TSCO).


Reports emerged on Wednesday that Unilever -- whose star brands include Marmite spread, Persil detergent and Ben & Jerry's ice cream -- has demanded a 10% hike in what it charges Tesco to stock its goods, the company trying to mitigate the impact of sterling's shocking decline on its margins.

A subsequent fear that Britain will be starved of its kitchen favourites has led to a social media storm, and many thousands of angst-ridden shoppers frantically clearing the shelves of their local Tesco in fear of a supply shortage.

Clearing out

Such battles between supplier and supermarket aren't uncommon, and are indeed likely to become more numerous in the months ahead should -- as widely expected -- the pound continue to haemorrhage value amid the unfolding Brexit story.

And while Unilever's stock price may have suffered as a result, it was last 4% lower in Thursday's session, it's usually the retailer that blinks first. Indeed, Tesco is also firmly in the red today as investors worry that even more shoppers could flock to rival supermarkets in a dash for Unilever's hot labels.

Outperforming the market

The stunning popularity of the London manufacturer's brands was also underlined by Unilever's latest financials released today. These showed underlying sales growth of 4.2% during January-September, to EUR39.7bn, with like-for-like demand in emerging regions leaping 7% in the period.

Although conditions in its markets remains "soft and volatile," as Unilever itself puts it, the company is able to ride out these pressures as the formidable pricing power of its labels pays off. Consumers are prepared to pay that little bit extra for the goods they crave, regardless of wider economic troubles, enabling Unilever to raise prices when it sees fit.

Soap star

This quality is also enjoyed by PZ Cussons(LSE: PZC), whose vast product range includes the likes of St Tropez tanning lotions and Imperial Leather soap.

Indeed, Cussons noted last month that "the strength of [our] brand portfolio and new product pipeline is serving us well and, together with a continued focus on costs, leaves the group well placed to manage the challenging trading conditions that exist in most markets."

And like Unilever -- which generates 57% of its revenues from lucrative developing markets -- Cussons boasts terrific exposure to these hot 'new' territories, regions that promise to drive revenues to the stars in the years ahead as disposable incomes and population levels rise.

Pricey but without peer

Both Cussons and Unilever change hands on conventionally 'lofty' forward P/E ratings ahead of the FTSE 100 average of 15 times, at 21.4 times and 23 times respectively.

But the unparalleled demand for their labels -- helped by a steady stream of product rollouts and clever marketing campaigns -- merits these ratings, in my opinion. Indeed, I reckon both Unilever and Cussons are terrific stocks for those seeking stellar long-term earnings growth, regardless of their high ratings.

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Royston Wild has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended Unilever. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of PZ Cussons. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.