Coke Is Still King of the World

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When the 2010 Interbrand ranking of the most valuable brands in the world was released, Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) was once again sitting atop the list. That's no small matter. That means that all over the world, the Coca-Cola brand is not only recognizable to consumers, but it makes them want to plunk down their hard-earned money -- over and over again -- for the can of cola stamped with that familiar logo.

During the third quarter, we saw that world-beating brand at work in Coke's international operations, as volume and operating income growth of 12% and 20%, respectively, in the company's Eurasia and Africa division helped drive companywide volume and operating income gains of 5% and 9%. That's no small feat when you're a company that's well over 100 years old and churns out more than $30 billion in annual revenue.

But it wasn't just the overseas operations that were notable during the quarter. Coke's very mature North America segment upped its volume by 2%, which makes it two quarters in a row that the company has seen gains in that region. This is particularly notable as consumer-goods giants like Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) and Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL  ) are facing headwinds from the private-label products from the likes of Target (NYSE: TGT  ) and Kroger (NYSE: KR  ) .

From the "You can teach an old dog new tricks" file, continued double-digit volume growth for Coke Zero helped propel North American sparkling beverages. Meanwhile, the Trademark Simply brand, Powerade, and Glaceau helped boost North American still beverage volume by 8%.

Of course, while Coke's third quarter results were undoubtedly solid -- not to mention above analysts' expectations -- like its archrival PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP  ) , this isn't a company that you should bother trying to track on a quarter-to-quarter basis. The Coke story is one that has, and will continue to, develop over the course of years and decades. In fact, last fall, Coca-Cola presented its "2020 Vision" -- a long-range plan for many aspects of the business that includes a target of doubling the company's systemwide revenue while increasing margins.

Though I don't want to extrapolate too much from just the past few quarters, I'd be hard-pressed to bet against Coke hitting its targets. Slow-growing markets such as North America and Europe will pose challenges for the company, but continuing to pounce on the growth available in emerging markets as well as building new billion-dollar brands should help overcome the sluggishness in those areas.

This still leaves us with the question of whether Coke's shares should be in your portfolio right now. The stock's 2010 price-to-earnings ratio of 18 suggests a rich price and spending some time with the company's cash flows only confirms that. But that doesn't mean that it's necessarily time to jam the sell button on Coke -- though a higher price does mean lower future returns, some investors may be OK hanging onto the stability (and dividend) that Coke offers, even if it means a lower potential payoff.

Coca-Cola is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Procter & Gamble are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. The Fool owns shares of and has written covered calls on Procter & Gamble. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on PepsiCo. The Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer owns shares of Coca-Cola, but does not own shares of any of the other companies mentioned. You can check out what Matt is keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio, or you can follow Matt on Twitter @KoppTheFool or on his RSS feed. The Fool's disclosure policy assures you no Wookiees were harmed in the making of this article.

Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (10)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2010, at 4:09 PM, goalie37 wrote:

    Long KO, but not adding to my position at these prices. As you stated, this is a long term story. Internationally, I believe they have much room to grow, and they have a great dividend policy to compensate for that long term view.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2010, at 4:25 PM, Acesnyper wrote:

    KO is a solid buy but it's a long stock. One that I rarely will hear anyone gripe about.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2010, at 4:47 PM, Mstinterestinman wrote:

    Bought in at 42 probably hold for life and enjoy the reinvested dividends ;)

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2010, at 5:39 PM, langco1 wrote:

    coke is a great company but a crumy stock to own it trades in a fairly tight range and its dividend is average.for those who bought in 20 years ago during its growth period they did great now that it is fully mature another story...

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2010, at 6:52 PM, scanlin wrote:

    Agree with langco1. Only way to make money with KO these days is to own it and write calls against it. With the stock at 61.15 you can sell a Nov 62.50 for 46 cents. If not called you can sell another call option for the December cycle. Do it 12x per year and you can get a decent yield out of it (and still leave a point or two of upside potential).


  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2010, at 11:49 AM, exdividendday wrote:

    KO is definitely the king of the world. The company has a net profit margin of 22 percent as of fiscal 2009. Return on equity was 27.5 percent at a debt to equity ratio of 0.45. The market strength of KO is wonderful. This is one of the reasons why the company is getting stronger and stronger.

    Take a look at the fundamentals of other companies from the soft drink business to understand this strength.

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