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Better Buy: Philip Morris International, Inc. vs. Coca-Cola

By Dan Caplinger – Mar 30, 2016 at 1:33PM

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How does these international powerhouses compare?

Image: Philip Morris International.

Many U.S. multinationals do business around the world, and both Philip Morris International (PM 1.92%) and Coca-Cola (KO 2.53%) wield huge influence over their respective industries. Yet investors with limited capital to invest have to make judgments about which stocks represent the best value. Let's compare Philip Morris and Coca-Cola on a number of metrics to see which one looks more attractive under current conditions.

From a share-price perspective, both Philip Morris International and Coca-Cola have performed well over the past year. Coca-Cola's gains amount to 19% since March 2015, while Philip Morris managed to put in an even more impressive 35% total return.

What's somewhat surprising, though, is that Philip Morris International's greater share-price gain hasn't translated into an overpriced valuation compared to Coca-Cola. Using simple valuation metrics based on trailing earnings, Philip Morris shares trade at an earnings multiple of about 22. Coca-Cola's trailing earnings multiple is 28, indicating a more expensive valuation.

When you incorporate forward earnings expectations into the mix, the gap narrows somewhat but doesn't close entirely. Philip Morris trades at a forward multiple of 21, compared to 23 with Coca-Cola. Based on this admittedly simple analysis, Philip Morris has a valuation edge.

Both Philip Morris and Coca-Cola have served dividend-seeking investors well over time. Philip Morris has a higher dividend yield at about 4.2%, but Coca-Cola's 3.1% yield is also respectable. Coca-Cola's payout ratio of 80% is slightly below Philip Morris' roughly 90% ratio, indicating that the tobacco giant pays a greater proportion of its earnings to shareholders via dividends than Coca-Cola right now.

Dividend growth has been an important aspect of both companies' histories. Coca-Cola is a member of the prestigious Dividend Aristocrats list, having made dividend increases each and every year for 54 straight years. Philip Morris hasn't been an independent company that long, but when you consider the strong history that its former domestic parent corporation put together, it can point to dividend growth that extends back nearly half a century as well. Based on current yield, Philip Morris has the edge, but the comparison is fairly close.

On a fundamental basis, both Philip Morris and Coca-Cola have had to deal with challenges. The biggest problem that Philip Morris has faced has come from the impact of the strong U.S. dollar. The tobacco giant's sales and net income have fallen sharply in recent quarters, but when you measure its results in local-currency terms, Philip Morris is doing a good job of producing organic growth. Regulatory challenges in a number of nations across the world pose threats to certain local markets that Philip Morris has sought to tap, but the industry has done a good job of fighting those efforts and finding ways to foster growth despite regulatory oversight.

Coca-Cola has seen similar pressures because of currency issues related to its international exposure. Yet the beverage giant is also fighting back against health concerns of its own related to sugary carbonated soft-drinks and their potential impact. Earnings growth has come largely from cost-cutting initiatives and internal efforts to improve efficiency, and Coca-Cola has also looked at adjusting the structure of its bottling operations in North America to foster greater flexibility in its business. Currently, Coca-Cola sees its best path for growth to be using the power of its branding to produce high-margin sales that requires less capital from the business as a whole.

Based on these three measures, Philip Morris International looks like it has the edge in being a better buy right now. However, Coca-Cola has its potential as well, and both stocks have the long-term track record of success that investors should pursue in choosing a stock.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Theca-Cola Stock Quote
$63.61 (2.53%) $1.57
Philip Morris International Stock Quote
Philip Morris International
$99.67 (1.92%) $1.88

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