Verizon Communication (VZ -0.81%) and Coca-Cola (KO -0.31%) may not seem like the kind of stocks investors would be comparing when making investment decisions, but they have a lot more in common than you might think. They're both mature businesses that have a large competitive moat and pay a dividend that's one of the stock's most attractive features.
Where these companies diverge is in their growth prospects. Only one has the potential to get much bigger over the next decade.
Where Verizon and Coca-Cola stand today
You can see below that Verizon and Coca-Cola have similar market caps, but very different revenue and net income figures. Verizon has nearly four times the revenue of Coca-Cola but just over double the net income.
This gives us a little bit of a feel for valuation and what kind of growth we might expect. Neither company is a growth machine, but Verizon's revenue is up 5% in the last five years while Coca-Cola's revenue has fallen 28%, partly because of the spinoffs of its bottling units. Still, Verizon's stock is trading at a discount no matter how you look at it.
A glimpse of the future
Coca-Cola has arguably hit the peak of its powers and is now in a downward trend. Soda consumption is being replaced by waters and juice drinks, which are healthier. The company has acquired some brands in those segments, but it's easier than ever for a start-up to gain awareness online or in niche grocery stores where Coca-Cola can't push them off shelves, as it has done in traditional retail channels.
Verizon has faced increased competition as 4G networks have gotten older and competitors have caught up to its early network lead. But now we're entering a world of 5G, and that's a game-changer. Verizon will have one of the first 5G networks nationwide and will be years ahead of the smaller (even if they merge) Sprint and T-Mobile, who were the ones selling customers on lower prices in recent years. The potential for 5G is enormous as devices from wearables to autonomous vehicles learn to use the lightning-fast download speeds. It's possible connections on Verizon's network will double, or go even higher, just from existing customers buying more connected devices over the next decade. That should add incremental revenue for the business and grow the bottom line as well.
Coca-Cola is a mainstay company, but it's not a growth machine because it's not riding a growing consumer trend or defining a new market segment. Verizon, on the other hand, is building a 5G network that could fuel a decade of growth. I think these companies have very different growth paths.
Where's the value?
If Verizon has more growth potential, it would make sense that it would have the higher P/E ratio and lower dividend. But the opposite is true.
Today, Verizon's P/E is 15.6, and it has a 4.1% dividend yield. Coca-Cola's P/E ratio is 33.2, and it has a 2.9% dividend yield.
Not only do I see better growth prospects for Verizon, it's also trading at a discount to Coca-Cola. That makes it the easy winner of this battle and shows why Verizon is one of my favorite stocks on the market today.