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It's not the normal course of business for me to lump myself in the same category as Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B ) chief Warren Buffett. After all, he's a billionaire, the architect behind one of the greatest corporate success stories, and one of the (if not the) best investors of all time -- and I'm, well, not.
I did meet Buffett once at a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, but I'm not sure that counts for much unless we're playing "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" (I met Buffett at the Berkshire annual meeting, Buffett made a cameo in All My Children with Susan Lucci, Lucci hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live and did a skit with Phil Hartman, Hartman was in Coneheads with Dan Aykroyd, Aykroyd was in Blues Brothers with John Belushi, and Belushi was in Animal House with Kevin Bacon. Bam!).
But that's neither here nor there.
When it comes to investing, there's a heck of a lot that Buffett can do that I simply can't. For instance, back in the fear-filled days of 2008, he wrangled preferred stock yielding 10% from both Goldman Sachs and General Electric (NYSE: GE ) . He's also been able to snatch up great privately held companies like See's Candies and swallow whole public companies such as Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Such is the benefit of a sterling reputation, an eye for bargains, and a massive balance sheet.
But when it comes to common stocks, I can go after the exact same shares that Buffett is buying for Berkshire. And when it comes to one stock in particular, I am most definitely on the same page as Buffett. It's Berkshire's largest stock holding. It's a staple among consumer staples. It is, of course, Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) .
There are plenty of reasons an investor might like Coke, and many of them can easily be seen on the financial statements. Over the past 20 years, the company practically quadrupled sales; it turns more than 20% of its revenue into profit, earns more than 30% on its equity, and absolutely gushes cash. For the dividend lovers out there, over the past decade the company has maintained annual dividend growth of nearly 10% while keeping a very conservative payout ratio.
Certainly those are among the reasons I'm a big fan of the stock. But the biggest reason is much more basic -- it's the company's business. Or, even more basic than that, it's Coke's namesake product.
The magic of Coke's core brand is its incredible endurance. Not only has the product not needed significant changes, its customers have actively resisted changes. Remember "New Coke"? Taste tests showed that people actually preferred the taste of the new formula, but nostalgia and the attachment to that original Coke formula elicited a huge backlash that forced the company to do a 180.
In other words, Coke is a product that gets sold over, and over, and over again, all over the world, with little need for changes or technological updates.
That means that unlike companies that sell TVs, computers, cell phones, video games, or a variety of other products, I can count on the fact that 10 years from now, Coke will still be satisfying customers all over the world with the same product. And, importantly, the price that those customers pay should roughly keep pace with inflation.
So naturally ...
I want to own more companies like Coca-Cola. That is, companies that have a product that customers will buy over and over again, without the need for significant retooling, and will do so without demanding a lower price.
Though the stock market isn't exactly awash in this type of company, there are certainly others out there that fit the mold. Here are a few of my favorites.
- Altria (NYSE: MO ) and Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM ) may leave a bad taste in some investors' mouths (no pun intended) since their business is slinging tobacco products. But as far as finding a business with a rock star of a product at its core, these two companies may out-Coke Coke. In the U.S. the Marlboro brand commands an amazing 42% of the cigarette market, and internationally it's been the top brand since 1972. Marlboro's 302 billion cigarettes sold internationally in 2009 beat the next three competitors combined.
- Diageo (NYSE: DEO ) could likewise be categorized as "sin stock," but I'd prefer to categorize it as simply sinfully successful. Just as nothing needs to be done to keep the Coke product successful, Diageo doesn't need to do much to keep leading brands like Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Captain Morgan, and Jose Cuervo -- to name a few -- trucking along. Motley Fool Income Investor advisor James Early recently made Diageo his pick for The Motley Fool's "11 O'Clock Stock" series, largely because of its amazing brand portfolio.
- Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) doesn't have a single product that provides the foundation of the company, but instead it has large portfolio of products. P&G does more tweaking to its products than Coke -- think about the changes to Gillette razors or innovations for Pampers diapers -- but brands like Tide, Vicks, Oral-B, Scope, Zest, and Old Spice don't need significant technological advancements to keep the dollars rolling in.
Do you have a favorite stock that fits the Coke model? Head down to the comments section and share it!
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