Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo See a Different Year Ahead

By Demitri Kalogeropoulos – Updated Apr 15, 2019 at 5:02PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Here's a comparison of the soda titans' short-term growth and capital return plans.

Between them, Coca-Cola (KO -1.95%) and PepsiCo (PEP -1.63%) plan to generate at least $17 billion of operating cash flow in 2019 as they flex their pricing power and massive economies of scale. These wins make it highly likely that shareholders in both companies will enjoy decent, if unspectacular, returns, bolstered by the stocks' over 3% dividend yields.

Yet in the fiscal-year outlooks they provided this past week, the soda titans diverged in a few important ways that might make one stock preferable over the other, depending on your investing preferences. Both companies end their fiscal year in late December.

Let's take a closer look.

The year that just closed

There wasn't much daylight between the two companies' growth rates in 2018. Sure, Coke enjoyed a slightly faster sales bump as organic revenue expanded by 5% overall compared to Pepsi's 4%. Among the soda giant's biggest wins was a global rollout of its "Coke Zero Sugar" franchise that's helping offset losses from the Diet Coke brand.

A woman drinking soda from a glass.

Image source: Getty Images.

That launch contributed to Pepsi's drink stumbles earlier in the year, but the company found traction in its snack segment and also ended 2018 on a generally positive note. Sales gains sped up from the 3% pace through the first half to end at 4% for the full year, nailing management's upgraded guidance of "at least 3%" from early October.

The earnings matchup was close, too, but the edge here goes to Coke. With help from its bottler refranchising initiative, core earnings rose by 13% for the year, while Pepsi managed a 9% increase. Both companies found modest success at raising prices to offset increased commodity costs.

Looking ahead

Investors saw bigger differences in the 2019 outlook that each company issued, with Coke forecasting slower growth and modest cash returns compared to its more diversified rival. Specifically, the cola giant sees organic sales slowing to a 4% pace from 5% while earnings gains remain muted. Pepsi, thanks in part to its improving momentum in recent months, said it expects growth to hold steady. Core profits should drop slightly due to higher spending on the business this year, but mid-single-digit gains should return in 2020, executives predict.

Pepsi is aiming to generate $9 million of cash from its business, compared to $8 billion for Coca-Cola. And, while it's still early in his tenure, new Pepsi CEO Ramon Laguarta appears to be taking a strategic approach that avoids big acquisitions like last year's SodaStream purchase in favor of pairing incremental sales growth with aggressive direct returns to shareholders.

Coke signaled cash repurchase spending that merely offsets dilution to continue its recent trend of lower buybacks. The company spent $2 billion on its shares in 2017 and less than $500 million last year. Pepsi, on the other hand, spent $2 billion on its stock in each of the last two years and plans to boost that level to $3 billion in 2019.

Check out the latest Pepsi and Coca-Cola earnings call transcripts.

Neither company is likely to wow investors with big sales gains given the major headwinds facing the soda and consumer packaged foods industries. Yet Pepsi and Coke remain two of the market's most efficient businesses, and so either is likely a good place to invest if you favor dependable earnings and dividend income. But, entering 2019, Pepsi has the upper hand in terms of growth momentum and cash return plans.

Demitrios Kalogeropoulos has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

The Coca-Cola Company Stock Quote
The Coca-Cola Company
KO
$55.14 (-1.95%) $-1.10
PepsiCo Inc. Stock Quote
PepsiCo Inc.
PEP
$163.29 (-1.63%) $-2.71

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
339%
 
S&P 500 Returns
109%

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 10/06/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.