This morning, Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) sent out a press release as a precursor to an 11 a.m. investor/analyst meeting. While Fools wait for news from that cola confab, there's still plenty to talk about. The press release contained several small but interesting bits of information about tax rates, currency effects, future capital expenditures, and more. In a sign of apparent respect -- better than I could muster, as I'm currently drinking Pepsi (NYSE:PEP) One -- the shares are currently at a new 52-week high.

The company was to discuss strategy, its financials, and the outlook for 2004 -- though, as usual, not provide EPS guidance -- but the upshot will no doubt be its assurance that it can deliver on long-term earnings growth of 11% to 12%. At Coca-Cola, which boasts impressive gross margins north of 60%, this goal mixes elements of simplicity and complexity that have long challenged its managers.

The company's success relies upon four objectives: (1) steadfast (and expensive) brand maintenance and restaurant deals that allow the company to continue battling Pepsi and others in the race to sell soda; (2) constant experimentation and creation of new sources of incremental growth (as Sprite Remix, Frozen and Vanilla Coke, and the simple-but-brilliant "fridge pack" have been this year); (3) a focus on cost management and efficiencies; and 4) share buybacks. Notably, the company today said it will boost its buyback plan.

Despite the shares' recent runup, today's highs look pretty pedestrian when you stretch the chart out a bit. Heck, the company's stock hasn't even outperformed the Standard & Poor's 500, itself in negative territory, over the last five years. Even so, with Coke's history (and likely future) of strong operating and free cash flows well in excess of net income -- not to mention its dividend -- the shares may look interesting to some investors.

However, with the stock trading at about 23 times forward earnings estimates, it's difficult to make a value argument. The company's recent operating performance isn't overwhelming, and Pepsi is still the leaner competitor -- while trading at similar multiples.

Still think Coke is It? Pour the world your thoughts on our Coca-Cola discussion board.

Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at