If you've held Coca Cola(NYSE:KO)or Procter & Gamble(NYSE:PG)stock in the past few years, you know they've been struggling with growth. Their stock prices have remained stagnant compared to major indexes:
The good news is that their value reaches beyond mere stock price appreciation. They have enviable brand power, qualify as "dividend aristocrats", and are making significant strides toward growth.
The case for Coca-Cola
Despite being in business since 1886, a 2015 study from Forbes shows that Coca-Cola still ranks among the world's five most valuable brands. It remains the leader in its industry with a 33.6% U.S. share of the non-alcoholic beverage market.
Coca-Cola has also been paying quarterly dividends since 1920 and has been increasing the payout for half a century; through everything from wars to market crashes. The current dividend yield stands at 3.39% with a fairly healthy dividend payout ratio of 74%. In layman's terms this means that 74% of excess cash goes to shareholders, with the remainder being rolled back into the company.
Keeping up with changing times
Soft drinks are Coca-Cola's main source of revenue, and their consumption has been declining sharply for years due to a shift in customer preferences toward healthier alternatives. A 2014 study by Beverage Digest indicated that soft-drink sales have declined about 14% since 2004.
To tackle the issue, the company has been creating, acquiring, or partnering with various brands. Popular brands under the Coca-Cola umbrella today include Dasani, Glaceau Smartwater, and Honest Tea. It has expanded into everything from coconut water (Zico) and orange juice (Minute Maid) to fortified milk (Fairlife). Its still-beverage category includes 11 brands that generate over $1 billion in annual sales, and it's still growing.
So Coca-Cola appears to have the shift to healthier drinks covered. And it's not as if people have stopped drinking soda entirely. A 2014 WebMD study showed that 17% of Americans on average drink at least one can of soda per day, with state-by-state percentages ranging from 12% in New York to 32% in Mississippi.
The case for Procter & Gamble
Procter & Gamble is the parent company of several of the world's top consumer goods brands. The 178 year old company has thrived as a leader within its industry. Its products sell in about 70 countries around the world and include several billion-dollar brands with massive customer appeal. Procter & Gamble's strong business model of recurring revenue is one of the primary drivers of its continued success.
The company has been paying dividends consistently since 1890. A 3% increase in its quarterly dividend earlier this year to $0.6629 per share represented its 59th consecutive year of dividend increases. The current yield is at about 3.6% with a payout ratio of approximately 84%. In 2015 alone, the company has paid out an estimated $7.4 billion in dividends.
Slimming down operations
Procter & Gamble's leadership position as the world's largest consumer products company has also resulted in some sluggishness. Over the past five years, annual sales growth has been in the single digits, and the stock has risen only 17%, lagging far behind the S&P 500.
CEO Alan Lafley has been largely responsible for the current restructuring plans, which include streamlining operations to create a business that is more profitable and simpler to manage. Procter & Gamble is in the process of divesting 90 to 100 of its brands, keeping about 70 to 80 with the greatest potential. The brands the company plans to keep in its portfolio, such as Pampers and Tide, generate nearly 90% of sales and more than 95% of profits.
Another approach will be to cut costs and boost efficiency by accelerating and over-delivering on the original productivity plan the company announced in 2012. The plan is expected to generate a total of $10 billion in savings through 2016 in operations across the board including cost of goods, marketing, and overhead.
Procter & Gamble will also be placing a special focus in consumer-led innovations within the most profitable product lines. Categories of focus will include grooming and oral hygiene with brands such as Crest & Gillette, where the company has large market share.
Although Mr. Lafley is set to step down in November, he exits with a clearly specified vision and leaves the company in the hands of 35-year company veteran David Taylor. Lafley will remain as chairman of the board to ensure a smooth transition.
The Foolish bottom line
While investors sometimes expect rapid and consistent stock growth, companies don't always work that way. Markets go through cycles, and it's the companies that survive periods of slow growth and continue to perform consistently over the long-term that deserve our attention. Although there are no guarantees in the stock market, the chances are slim that high-quality companies such as Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble will go belly up. So sit back, collect your dividends, and keep an eye on the companies' plans to expand their footprint and bottom lines.