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Clorox posts higher profit, stands by 2013 view

By Jessica Wohl

(Reuters) - Clorox Co posted a higher quarterly profit and maintained its forecast for the fiscal year on Wednesday, buoyed by price increases, cost cuts and a lower-than-anticipated tax rate.

The bleach maker earned $133 million, or $1.01 per share, in the first quarter ended September 30, up from $130 million, or 98 cents per share, a year earlier.

Analysts, on average, had expected Clorox to earn 95 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Clorox said that its tax rate of 31.6 percent was lower than planned, due to a recent international tax settlement. It expects its full-year tax rate will be 33 percent to 34 percent.

Sales rose 3 percent to $1.34 billion, while the volume of goods sold declined 1 percent.

Over the past few years Clorox has raised prices on a variety of products, such as its namesake bleach, Pine-Sol cleaners, GladWare disposable containers and Brita water filters, as it has faced higher costs for materials.

While the price increases have helped offset those higher costs, they have also led some shoppers to choose lower-priced alternatives, such as store-branded products. Clorox has been advertising "bleachable moments" and using other campaigns to entice shoppers to buy its branded goods.

Clorox said that it saw its highest volume growth of bleach in more than two years and had record shipments of Clorox disinfecting wipes, while facing declines in products such as Pine-Sol, Clorox 2, charcoal and cat litter.

Clorox started to introduce a concentrated version of its well-known bleach in August 2012, a year after it raised the U.S. price of bleach by 12 percent.

The smaller bottles of concentrated bleach cut costs and are more environmentally friendly, as Clorox uses less water and packaging to make the product and needs less fuel for transport. They also allow retailers to fit more bottles on shelves.

Gross margin increased to 42.9 percent from 41.8 percent a year earlier, helped by cost-cutting and the lift from various price increases. Still, Clorox faced some inflation in manufacturing and logistics, as well as higher selling and administration expenses, including ongoing spending to upgrade its information technology systems.

Clorox said that it still expects to earn $4.20 per share to $4.35 per share in fiscal 2013 and that sales would rise 2 percent to 4 percent.

Uncertainty in some international markets, pressure from declining foreign currencies and a challenging comparison to strong sales growth in fiscal 2012 continue to weigh on the company's fiscal 2013 outlook, it said.

Oakland, California-based Clorox posted its earnings on Wednesday, as expected, but postponed its conference call until Friday as analysts and investors on the East Coast continue to deal with disruptions after Hurricane Sandy.

(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Gerald E. McCormick)

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