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Is Diageo Stock a Buy?

By Adria Cimino - Mar 18, 2020 at 7:55AM

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Leading brands will keep revenue growing -- even if the coronavirus outbreak weighs on earnings now.

Even a platform of renowned alcohol brands isn't shielding British spirits giant Diageo (DEO 0.50%) from the economic pain of the coronavirus outbreak. The company recently said it expects a negative impact in fiscal 2020 of as much as $398 million on organic net sales and up to $245 million on organic operating profit.

Shutdowns of bars and restaurants that began in China and have spread to other countries (including the U.S.), cancellation of conferences and events, as well as a significant drop in travel, are all weighing on sales. Like most of the market, Diageo's shares have tumbled and are now down 24% year-to-date.

So is it time to scoop up Diageo shares? Let's take a closer look at where the company is right now and what's potentially still to come.

A close-up photo of a gin and tonic drink is shown against a black background.

Image source: Getty Images.

No. 1 spirits maker

Diageo is the world's No. 1 spirits maker, with global volume market share of 27%. But the company has room for growth, considering it still only produces 1.7% of total beverage alcohol served worldwide. In its 2019 annual report, Diageo outlined some of the elements that could lift sales in the coming years. The company predicts 750 million consumers in emerging markets will be able to afford its products and those of rivals by 2030. Diageo also has noticed that U.S. consumers are moving from beer to spirits, European customers are switching from beer and wine to spirits, and in some parts of Africa, people are moving away from illegal alcohol to regulated, quality products.

IWSR, a drinks market analyst based in the U.K., found support for those observations in its data. According to the report, spirits posted growth in 2018, while the consumption of wine and beer fell.

In more good news for Diageo, gin represented the biggest growth category, climbing 8.3%, and is expected to continue gains. Diageo owns the Gordon's and Tanqueray gin brands. Gordon's posted nearly 27% volume growth in 2018, making it the No. 1 player, while Tanqueray took the third spot, according to The Spirits Business.

Leadership in many categories

Diageo is the owner of other leading brands, as well. Its whiskeys hold 38% of the market for the top spot, while Smirnoff remains the biggest seller in vodka, and Baileys holds the title of most popular cream liqueur brand.

This diversification of beverage types and leadership in many categories is another positive, as it allows Diageo to benefit rather than suffer when one trend ends and another begins. For instance, vodka was the drink to have at a party in the 1990s, but these days, vodka sales have slowed and (as mentioned above) gin is the cool drink to order.

Diageo has the market share and diversification -- but what about revenue and earnings? It isn't a high-growth company offering double-digit sales increases, but instead, it's a steady long-term play. The company has grown revenue since at least 2009 and gained in earnings per share since 2017.

In its latest report, the company said net sales climbed 4.2% for the half-year, with all regions positively contributing. Earnings per share slipped about 2% due to an exceptional gain in the year-earlier period.

Considering the novel coronavirus pandemic situation, earnings probably won't be a bright spot in the immediate future, but the disturbance is clearly temporary. In the meantime, investors can benefit from Diageo's plan to return as much as $5.5 billion to investors over a period of three years. The first phase wrapped up in January, allowing Diageo to buy back $1.53 billion in shares.

An opportunity

Diageo currently is trading at about 19 times earnings, its lowest level since December 2016. By that measure, it's trading at a discount compared to rival Constellation Brands (STZ -0.20%), which has a price to earnings ratio of about 30. Wall Street predicts 32% upside for Diageo from this level.

I don't see that sort of gain in the near future, considering the ride through the next earnings season will likely be bumpy. But weakness in the shares now is an opportunity for long-term investors. Diageo has the right cocktail of product diversification, market share, and steady revenue to make it a consumer staple stock to add to your portfolio and hold onto for quite a while.

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Stocks Mentioned

Diageo plc Stock Quote
Diageo plc
$180.53 (0.50%) $0.91
Constellation Brands, Inc. Stock Quote
Constellation Brands, Inc.
$234.36 (-0.20%) $0.47

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