PepsiCo, Inc. Makes the Case for Nelson Peltz

Its results say it better than the activist investor did that there's a wide gulf between its two divisions.

Feb 16, 2014 at 6:45AM

Underscoring the case made by Nelson Peltz to cleave PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) in two, the drink and snack giant said its results for 2013 show the strength of its Frito-Lay division, while the soda business will continue to dwindle. However, Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi said that doesn't change the view the two units should remain whole, and after an exhaustive review, the beverage maker won't be splitting the company up.

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Pepsi said snack volumes were up 3% last year, as was organic growth, and going forward it expects the division to represent about two-thirds of its revenue growth, two-thirds of which will come from emerging and developing markets. As a result, we can expect Pepsi to look more like those trends in the future, a business heavily dependent on snacks coming from regions just finding their stride.

Contrary to Peltz's assertion that by dividing the company in two it could be greater than the whole, Pepsi believes the presence of the drinks business, which grew only 1% organically last year, supports and pushes the snacks business. Nooyi says without beverages, the snacks business becomes less relevant to consumers, but that might be overstating the case.

Soda sales have been on a steady decline all across North America, from all beverage makers, as consumers become wary of the artificial sweeteners they're filled with, preferring instead juices, health drinks, and ironically energy drinks, which are reputed to have health dangers all their own. Indeed, Pepsi's beverage business has suffered from more than five years of negative volume growth and more than a decade of declining per capita volumes that puts it perennially behind its nemesis, Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO)

Coke, on the other hand, remains sharply focused on its drinks business, and a deal inked last week with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ:GMCR) to market a home-based DIY cold beverage system shows its willingness to look beyond traditional sales channels while staying well within its comfort zone. 

Moreover, Coke's global sales effort continues to expand. While we're awaiting fourth-quarter and full-year results, its third-quarter effort showed 2% volume expansion internationally, and even where there was softness, such as in Europe and Latin America, it was able to significantly raise prices to offset the weak volumes.

Part of Peltz's rationale for separating Pepsi's two divisions was because management was constantly playing a game of catch-up with its rival, distracting management from its snacks wheelhouse. While he had also suggested Pepsi acquire global snacks giant Mondelez International (NASDAQ:MDLZ), he's since dropped that pitch after wheedling his way onto the company's board.

Apparently in a bid to appease other investors who may be growing restless along with Peltz, Pepsi said it will return about $8.7 billion to shareholders through buybacks and dividends this year, 36% more than in 2013. It will raise the share repurchase program to about $5 billion while increasing the annual dividend to $2.62 per share from $2.27. Based on its recent closing price, it would yield 3.3%.

Although Pepsi is making the case that its results show it's better off together than apart, in reality it appears the beverage maker has shown why Nelson Peltz's plan may be the better bet after all.

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Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and PepsiCo and owns shares of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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 disclosure policy.

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