A glance at PepsiCo's (PEP -0.22%) stock price chart would suggest the consumer staples giant has no attractive growth prospects. Investors left its shares out of the wider rally in 2020, and Pepsi has lost further ground this year.
Yet its business is stronger than that stock price performance implies, which might set up a volatile trading week ahead as the company prepares to kick off a new fiscal year. With that bigger picture in mind, let's look at some key metrics to watch in its quarterly announcement set for Thursday, April 15.
Still winning market share
Pepsi's ability to grow through the pandemic set it apart from peers in both the beverage and snack food niches. Its soda sales volumes stayed in positive territory despite slumping demand at restaurants and bars, while Coca-Cola's fell. Pepsi's packaged food segment also outperformed the likes of McCormick.
Pepsi should extend that positive momentum on Thursday by showing market share gains in its Quaker Foods segment, along with a healthy mix of pricing and volume growth in beverages. Most investors who follow the stock are looking for sales to rise about 5%, or right on par with this past year's solid performance.
The profitability outlook isn't as positive since Pepsi in 2020 logged its second straight year of falling margins. Sure, some of that slump came from extra COVID-19 related costs that impacted all of its rivals. But Pepsi also had some expensive manufacturing and supply-chain bottlenecks to fix.
CEO Ramon Laguarta and his team warned investors about these expenses back in February and said to expect no quick end to the challenges. Pepsi is pivoting toward more of a growth focus that will require a step-up in its production capacity. While that's a good problem to have, the shift might cause earnings growth to trail sales gains for a third straight year in 2021 before accelerating again. And it's sure to reduce direct cash returns to investors in the meantime.
Pepsi's first 2021 outlook called for organic sales to rise in the mid-single-digit percentages after improving by about 5% in each of the last two years. Cash returns to shareholders will fall to $6 billion, compared to nearly $8 billion last year. Those forecasts might see modest shifts on Thursday depending on how the business performed over the past few weeks.
That temporary drop in cash return shouldn't be anything for investors to worry about, especially as Pepsi aims for sustainably faster sales growth from here. And the stock's generous dividend yield will support returns in the meantime.
As a result, anyone on the fence about buying Pepsi stock has some good reasons to like the shares heading into its new fiscal year. Accelerating sales gains are likely over the next few years, and yet the stock has become cheaper relative to the market. That's a formula for impressive long-term returns for investors willing to wait for Pepsi's profit rebound to gain steam in 2021 and beyond.