Nike (NYSE:NKE) and Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) are strong brands that most of us recognize. Nike sells us athletic gear -- and the dream of jumping as high as basketball legend Michael Jordan when we buy the latest pair of Air Jordans. Beyond its eponymous drink, Coca-Cola is also the name behind Innocent and Minute Maid juices, Fuze Tea, and more recently Costa Coffee.
The coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on revenue at Nike and Coca-Cola, and troubles aren't over. But I'm optimistic about both companies in the long term. Which one is the best buy today? Let's find out.
Nike's digital growth
Nike's recent strength has been in its ability to grow its direct-to-consumer and digital segment. Digital is the fastest-growing part of Nike, representing about 20% of business. And it helped the retailer generate sales first in China and then throughout the world as the coronavirus outbreak spread -- even as Nike closed most of its stores. For example, in the third quarter of fiscal 2020, Nike's online sales rose more than 30% in Greater China -- evan as about 75 of its stores were closed there. Across regions, digital sales climbed 36%.
Nike applied lessons learned in China to its business elsewhere during the crisis and put the focus on staying in touch with customers and promoting fitness. The company offered Nike Training Club (NTC) Premium for free in the U.S. for 90 days. The NTC Premium app includes workouts and expert tips -- and for Nike, making it free was a great way to keep customers and potential customers connected and thinking of Nike during the crisis.
The company's third quarter ended on Feb. 29, which means much of the effect from the coronavirus outbreak in Europe and North America will be seen in the fourth-quarter report scheduled for June 25. I'm expecting digital will help offset the effect of store closures in this quarter, but sales figures likely won't be a slam dunk.
And in the coming weeks, the weakened economy may weigh on sales at Nike. People who have lost jobs or have seen their income decline will be less likely to spend on discretionary items. Still, I think the investment in digital will keep Nike growing once consumers are able to spend more.
Coca-Cola, the aristocrat
Coca-Cola is a dividend aristocrat, meaning it is an S&P 500 company that has raised its annual dividend for 25 straight years or more. In Coca-Cola's case, we're talking 58 consecutive years. And even in recent times when free cash flow was lower, the company still lifted its dividend. That's reason for optimism about potential dividend increases into the future.
As for revenue, Coca-Cola started to feel the effects of the coronavirus crisis in the first quarter ending March 27, and said effects on the second quarter will be "material." Though Coca-Cola benefited from consumer stockpiling at grocery stores, it lost out as restaurants temporarily closed their doors. Away-from-home sales account for about half of Coca-Cola's revenue, so we shouldn't expect brilliant numbers when Coca-Cola reports earnings for the current period.
And as an established company that's been around for 134 years, Coca-Cola is unlikely to match younger companies when it comes to growth and expansion in the future. Coca-Cola, which makes about 4,700 products, already sells its beverages in more than 200 countries and territories.
Still, the company has made efforts to serve transforming tastes by creating products with a lower sugar content or more nutritional benefits. Of the 1,000 new products introduced last year, about 400 were either sugar-free or low in sugar. The acquisition of U.K. coffee shop and brand Costa offers access to another solid market. The sugar-free food and beverage market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 9% through 2024, while the coffee market is set to grow at a nearly 6% CAGR through 2025, according to reports by Mordor Intelligence.
Nike or Coca-Cola?
Coca-Cola is less expensive than Nike, trading at almost 20 times trailing 12-month earnings, while Nike trades at more than 35. Coca-Cola shares are down about 17% so far this year, while Nike has recouped much of its loss and now is down about 5.5%.
While valuation and dividend make Coca-Cola a better buy, I think Nike will rebound more quickly when it comes to sales growth once the economy strengthens. At that point, fans will return to the stands and make buying new gear a priority -- digitally or in store. And that's why, in my opinion, Nike wins this game.