I recently suggested that investors might do well to begin sipping at shares of beverage behemoth Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) . But is a similar measure of confidence warranted when it comes to rival PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP ) ?
Beginning with recent news items, PepsiCo's business certainly appears to be enjoying positive momentum. Management just expanded the company's interest in the healthy/healthier market segment by inking a U.S. distribution deal with Lance Armstrong-endorsed FRS-brand energy drinks and powders. In my view, a strong foothold in better-for-you products is key to PepsiCo's long-term growth outlook. In this case, the company may be able to chip away at the energy-drink dominance currently enjoyed by, among others, Hansen Natural's (Nasdaq: HANS ) Monster brand.
Geographically, PepsiCo is reporting that the Russian consumer, whose weakness weighed on 2009 beverage sales, is showing renewed strength. The company expects 2010 Russian sales to advance beyond last year's $2 billion at a double-digit percentage clip. Management is also looking to get into the Russian fish snacks business, possibly by means of acquisition. Notably, in Q4 2008, PepsiCo acquired Russia's largest natural juice producer, Lebedyansky, a move that once again demonstrates the company's commitment to expand its portfolio beyond carbonated drinks.
Finally, prices of key commodities such as sugar, corn, rice, and wheat have in past months been trending downward; in some cases, outright plummeting. Depending on how that dynamic squares with the company's commodity hedges, the net effect could be a nice boost to operating margin in the coming quarters.
But enough of the narrative, let's get down to hard numbers.
PepsiCo's forward price-to-earnings ratio is 13.8. Compared to a five-year average P/E of 19.8, and a five-year average low P/E of 16.7, that looks cheap. However, investors should keep in mind that in 2009, shares did touch a forward P/E low of 12.5. Moreover, the current forward P/E assumes that next year's earnings will grow by 11.5% -- ahead of the 9%-ish five-year compound growth rate that's been the norm in the past few years. And -- this is a big and -- we must consider two related observations: (1) analysts tend to be overoptimistic; and (2) with PepsiCo having only recently folded its acquired bottlers into reportable operations, analysts don't necessarily have a firm handle on things just yet.
Ultimately, I believe that the current share price represents a decent buy-in point for long-term investors who can stomach the risk associated with the weak U.S. carbonated beverage market. But regardless of how bubbly you might feel about the company's prospects, don't confuse PepsiCo for a consumer-staples stock. Even though it offers exposure to food categories through its snacks segment, it's the J.M. Smuckers (NYSE: SJM ) and General Millses (NYSE: GIS ) of the world that sell truly must-have goods.