Coke's Return to Myanmar Is Good for Investors -- and for Myanmar

Consumers are becoming more and more socially conscious, and want the goods and services they use to measure up. It doesn't take much. A simple action that costs a company very little or nothing at all can make a real difference in the mind of the consumer, and in the company's bottom line.

Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) has repeatedly shown it can go beyond the call of duty when it comes to corporate social responsibility, but I particularly like what I'm seeing lately in its dealings with Myanmar. Let's dive deep into the beverage giant, evaluate its socially conscious policies and practices, and take a hard look at the numbers. We'll analyze the company in terms of its performance as a socially conscious enterprise, as a business, and as an investment.

The Coca-Cola Foundation strikes again
Coke recently announced it's returning to Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma. Myanmar was abandoned by much of the western business community in 1997, when the U.S. imposed harsh economic sanctions on the country for the behavior of its government: a repressive military dictatorship with a penchant for human rights abuses that had taken power in 1962.

In 1997, Coke's perennial rival, PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP  ) , stopped doing business there. Coke has been absent for 60 years. And while the company doesn't come right out and say so, it strongly implied in a recent statement that it's always kept its own counsel regarding exactly where and when it's appropriate to conduct business. With the military junta handing power back to a democratically elected government in 2011, that time has finally come.

Coke's return to Myanmar will be very slow, deliberate, and with an eye toward not just corporate but also social profit. The company's first order of business, before it sells a single can of Coke there, will be to make a grant of $3 million to support women's economic empowerment through job creation initiatives. It will do so in concert with Pact, a nongovernmental organization that promotes health, economic empowerment, and food security in 26 developing countries.

This is typical of how Coke and the Coca-Cola Foundation, the company's charitable giving arm, operate in many of its markets worldwide: "The Coca-Cola Company has always stood for optimism at times of change and progress around the world," says CEO Muhtar Kent. "From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the ... positive changes we are seeing today in Myanmar, Coca-Cola has proudly been there to refresh, invest, partner, and bring hope for a better tomorrow." A cynic might be tempted to laugh out loud at a statement like this if Coke didn't back up its considerable talk with action.

After all these years, still the real thing
Now, let's look at a few basic metrics and see how Coke measures up as a business and an investment against its peers:

Revenue growth: In its most recent quarter Coke grew its revenue by 3% year over year: not staggering, but solid for a 126-year-old company in the worst world economy since the Great Depression. Dr Pepper Snapple Group (NYSE: DPS  ) also held its own, with YOY growth of 2.5%. Pepsi, meanwhile, could only manage a 2% decline for the same period.

Earnings growth: Versus Pepsi's YOY decline in earnings of 21.1%, Coke's decline of just 0.4% is positively thrilling. While it falls short of Dr Pepper Snapple's 3.5% improvement, it leaves no wonder why the 60 million untapped consumers of Myanmar are so tempting.

Price-to-earnings ratio: Trading at 21 times earnings, Coke's valuation is a little on the high side, but not outrageously so: Amazon.com has a P/E of 285; a P/E like that requires an enormous amount of faith in a company's future earnings. A P/E of 21? Not nearly as much, but deservedly so. There's no arguing the fact that Coke has much less runway for future growth relative to the e-tailer.

Making money while making a difference
Coke is clearly the strongest of the three beverage giants we've looked at today, and goes above and beyond the call of duty on the corporate responsibility side. Are any companies perfect in the latter regard? No, but, to paraphrase Voltaire, it's important to never let the quest for the perfect drive out the good. Learn about three more U.S. companies also on their way to conquering the world in this Motley Fool special free report: "3 American Companies Set to Dominate the World." Download your copy right now by clicking here.

Fool contributor John Grgurich quotes Voltaire whenever he gets the chance, though his German shepherd prefers Nietzsche. Neither owns shares of any of the companies mentioned in this column. Follow John's dispatches from the bloody front lines of capitalism on Twitter @TMFGrgurich.

The Motley Fool owns shares of PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Amazon.com. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in PepsiCo. 

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a positively scintillating disclosure policy.


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