During a bull market, investors usually rotate from slower-growth blue-chip stalwarts toward higher-growth stocks. But when a bear market starts, that trend reverses as investors scramble back toward safer evergreen plays.

Coca-Cola (KO -0.27%) and Procter & Gamble (PG -0.35%) are two of those defensive bear market stocks. Coca-Cola's beverage sales generally remain stable throughout economic downturns, as do sales of P&G's well-established brands, which include Tide, Pampers, Tampax, Charmin, Bounty, Gillette, Oral-B, Head & Shoulders, Pantene, and SK-II.

A bear growling in front of a descending stock chart.

Image source: Getty Images.

Both stocks are also Dividend Kings, meaning they have raised their payouts annually for at least half a century. Coca-Cola has maintained that streak for 60 years, while P&G has done the same for 66 years. Both of these stocks are clearly safe, long-term investments. But which is a more compelling buy right now as the three-month-old bear market drags on? Let's see.

Coca-Cola's strong post-lockdown recovery

Soda consumption rates in developed markets have declined since the early 2000s as consumers have pivoted toward healthier drinks. However, Coca-Cola countered that slowdown by expanding its beverage portfolio with more brands of teas, juices, sports drinks, energy drinks, bottled water, coffee, and even alcoholic beverages. It also refreshed its flagship sodas with sugar-free versions, smaller serving sizes, and brand new flavors.

Coca-Cola's business wasn't resistant to the pandemic. After growing 6% in 2019, its organic sales fell 9% in 2020 as restaurants shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19. That loss of food-service revenue offset its stable retail sales.

But in 2021, its organic sales rose 8% as the lockdowns ended. Coca-Cola now expects organic sales to grow another 12% to 13% this year, even as it halts its sales in Russia, navigates unpredictable "zero COVID" lockdowns in China, and weathers inflationary and currency-related headwinds. It expects full-year comparable earnings per share (EPS) to grow 5% to 6%, and to increase 14% to 15% on a constant currency basis.

P&G's post-lockdown slowdown

Over the past decade, P&G divested dozens of brands -- including the 41 beauty brands it sold to Coty in late 2016 -- to streamline its business. Those efforts significantly reduced its expenses while shrinking its sprawling portfolio from about 180 brands in 2014 to just 65 brands today.

P&G's organic sales rose 5% in fiscal 2019, which ended in June of the calendar year. However, its organic sales grew 6% in both fiscal 2020 and 2021 as shoppers stocked up on more household products throughout the pandemic. Organic sales grew another 7% in fiscal 2022, but the company expects just 3% to 5% growth in fiscal 2023 as it hikes its prices to offset slower shipments in a post-pandemic market. Sales in China have also been disrupted by intermittent lockdowns.

As P&G's sales growth cools off, it expects its core EPS to grow just 0% to 4% in fiscal 2022 as it deals with inflation, higher freight costs, and a strong dollar. On a constant currency basis, it expects core EPS to rise 6% to 10%.

Which stock is the better value right now?

Coca-Cola trades at 24 times forward earnings and pays a forward dividend yield of 2.8%. P&G also trades at 24 times forward earnings, but it pays a slightly lower forward dividend yield of 2.6%.

Coca-Cola and P&G both look a bit pricey relative to their earnings growth because they're obvious safe havens in this choppy bear market. Both stocks might hold up well as long as investors are fearful, but their stretched valuations could also limit their upside potential. Once investors get greedy again, their currentlyl inflated valuations could deflate. 

That's why I wouldn't rush to buy either of these defensive stocks right now. However, Coca-Cola's stronger growth, higher dividend, and simpler business model make it a much better buy than P&G for this grueling bear market.