May 1, 2020 / 11:08 AM / a month ago

CORRECTED-UPDATE 2-Bleach boom lifts Clorox outlook after best sales growth in a decade

(Corrects fourth paragraph to show company said "in April" not March)

* Fiscal Q3 EPS $1.89 tops Wall Street view of $1.67

* Raises FY earnings, sales forecasts

* Confident about performance during economic slowdown

By Uday Sampath Kumar and Martinne Geller

May 1 (Reuters) - Clorox Co posted its biggest rise in quarterly sales in a decade and raised its annual forecast on Friday as it reaped the benefits of soaring demand for bleach and other disinfectants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Demand for cleaning liquids, soaps and other hygiene products has skyrocketed as consumers try everything they can to avoid catching the virus, which has now infected more than 3.2 million people globally, according to a Reuters tally.

Shares of Clorox, which has been running its factories 24 hours a day to keep up with demand, have risen over 21% this year, outperforming the S&P 500 index's 9.8% fall.

It said in April it had increased production of its germicidal bleach to six times historical averages.

Sales in the company's cleaning division, which makes up nearly 38% of total sales and includes its namesake bleach products as well as Formula 409 and Pine-Sol, surged 32% in the quarter.

Clorox, whose other units make Glad trash bags, Burt's Bees skincare products and Kingsford charcoal, said it is well positioned for the future, given its range of staple goods and the importance of disinfectants even once the current COVID-19 crisis subsides.

"We're optimistic about our ability to continue to perform well even in what's expected to be a challenging economic environment," Chief Executive Benno Dorer said.

Clorox's net sales rose 15% to $1.78 billion in the third quarter ended March 31, the biggest increase in quarterly sales since June 2010, according to Refinitiv data.

Net earnings jumped to $241 million, or $1.89 per share, in the quarter, from $187 million, or $1.44 per share, a year earlier. Analysts had expected $1.67 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Reckitt Benckiser, which owns rival cleaning brand Lysol, on Thursday reported record sales growth, also on the back of strong demand for disinfectants.

Clorox and Reckitt last week took the unusual step of urging people not to inject or ingest their products, after U.S. President Donald Trump suggested researchers try using them to cure COVID-19 patients.

Clorox forecast full-year sales to rise between 4% and 6%, compared with a prior forecast of a low single-digit decrease to a 1% increase.

It also raised its full-year earnings-per-share outlook to a range of $6.70 to $6.90, from its prior range $6.10 to $6.25 per share.

Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru and Martinne Geller in London; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel, William Maclean

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