There's something pleasantly secure and consistent about a Coke. You pop one open, anywhere you go, and you know precisely what you're getting. No wonder the backlash against New Coke was so intense back in the day. And when Wall Street opened Coca-Cola's (NYSE:KO) earnings report Thursday, the previous quarter was indeed just about as they had expected. The outlook, on the other hand, was New Coke -- unexpected, and not at all to their taste.
In this segment of the Market Foolery podcast, host Chris Hill and senior analyst Jim Mueller run through the fairly solid quarterly numbers, and discuss Coca-Cola's investments and expansion moves, its strategy, and how long its plans will take to pay off.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Feb. 14, 2019.
Chris Hill: Shares of Coca-Cola are having their worst day in over a decade. Fourth-quarter results for Coke were about what Wall Street was expecting. The guidance for 2019 was not, and shares are down 8%. Look, we've talked about plenty of other companies that have had worse drops in a single day. This is Coca-Cola. This is a steady blue chip. Eight percent...I was about to say huge, it's not huge. It's a big drop.
Jim Mueller: For a company of that size, definitely. I'm going to let the guidance alone. It is what it is. It's just basically whether what management says agrees with what Wall Street is expecting. Wall Street is basically guessing what's going to come, even though many companies do try to massage what those expectations are.
Just some of the numbers here. On an organic basis -- that is, taking out the effects of foreign currency translations and a bunch of the refranchising they've been doing with their bottlers -- revenue grew about 5%. A little bit on volume, 1%. Quite a bit, 4% on price increases. As far as pricing power goes, Coke still has it.
Hill: They do still have it. We talk from time to time about companies that, when they are going over their earnings, sometimes they're trying to massage the numbers in such a way where you're like, "Oh, come on!" In the case of the foreign currency, lest anyone thinks otherwise -- because Coca-Cola is as quintessential an American brand as there is -- most of their money is coming from outside the U.S., so that's a material thing for them.
Mueller: Right. I like that their operating income was up 7% ex currency. Cash flow from operations came in at $7.3 billion for the full year. Six billion in free cash flow. Both of those up substantially over the previous year. Just from the numbers, it looks like it's doing pretty good.
They're gaining market share. Their soft drinks gained 2%, driven a lot by their zero-sugar product, Coke Zero. The only category that was down was the juice, dairy, and plant stuff, down 1%. But water, enhanced water, sports drinks up 3%. Tea and coffee up 1%. All those are good numbers for Coke. They've been buying things. They just invested $15 million into Dirty Lemon.
Hill: Never heard of it, but I like the name.
Mueller: [laughs] They have interesting products. More about fitness and beauty drinks. For instance, they have a product called Collagen and it's a drink that has collagen in it. It's meant to be a skin moisturizer, skin revitalizer kind of drink. Coca-Cola said, "OK, we'll take a leap on you." [laughs] Just last month, they bought a Nigerian juice company that had been founded in 1980 for an undisclosed amount, called Chi Limited.
They're still expanding. This is a part of a big trend in big drink. PepsiCo bought SodaStream last year to get more of their sparkling water stuff. I saw an interesting stat this morning from S&P Global Market Intelligence, they showed the number of mergers and purchases of assets over the years. Back in 2009, there were about 65 for the entire year. Last year, there were over 130 of these things. So, you get a brand going, you get some sales, and Coke or Pepsi or Dr Pepper... whatever it's called nowadays --
Hill: Dr Pepper Snapple, is still called that? I don't know.
Mueller: It used to be, didn't they add another?
Hill: They added another one.
Mueller: Anyway, all the big guys are still, just like big beer, going after the small ones, trying to do a lot of their growth.
Hill: You think back to last summer. Coke had a bigger acquisition with Costa Coffee, about $5 billion. I don't want to just put this on Wall Street analysts. I don't own shares of Coca-Cola any longer, but I did for a good stretch of time. It's almost as though shareholders are saying, "OK, this is good, but we need to start seeing results." If they're going to get material returns out of coffee sales in the U.K. and Europe, that's great. But it's almost like, "We need that sooner rather than later."
Mueller: It'll come when it comes. Consumer tastes are changing. Many people, at least here in the States, are going more for the energy drinks and the healthy drinks, so Coke has gotten away from the sugar. They're getting double-digit growth in their Coke Zero. That's good for them.
Hill: Do you think, at any point, they need to consider going the route of Pepsi? Pepsi owns Frito-Lay --
Mueller: You mean snacks?
Hill: Yeah. Or has that ship sailed? Have they decided, on an institutional level, "We had that chance a long time ago. We decided not to do it." For a long time, it was working for Coca-Cola. But over the last five years, you'd rather be owning shares of Pepsi than Coke.
Mueller: As far as Coke goes, I'd rather that they stick to their knitting rather than getting into something like any sort of packaged foods. Pepsi has a lock on salty snacks. Where is Coke going to go with that? Sweet snacks? Everyone's going away from sweet. Packaged goods? That's having problems of its own.