January 5, 2011

For almost 40 years, the US consumer goods sector was among the safest of havens for investors. It rewarded them with annual returns well above the market average—second only to those of the energy sector—and in a bumper period from 1985 to 2002 outperformed the S&P 500 index by almost 20 percent annually. Since then, the sector has barely outpaced the index, despite persistent attempts by companies to find winning strategies. While inadequate cost controls and a failure to deliver significant value from a wave of mergers and acquisitions haven’t helped, one factor is the dominant culprit for the current malaise: the industry’s response to changing commodity prices.

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