I'd like to think some of it's payback for the odd attempts to capitalize on the endlessly overhyped "low-carb" craze with a half-diet Coke, sneakily packaged in odd numbers to camouflage its higher price. There have been little missteps, but the real problem remains revenues. They're not growing much.
As W.D. Crotty pointed out back in July, when Coke took its major nosedive, case volume growth was anemic, and getting thinner. It was only an eighth of rival PepsiCo's
Give management a B for bluntness, at least. There was no attempt at sugarcoating in the title of the release, nor in the opening paragraph. New-ish chairman and CEO Neville Isdell's sternly worded remarks call the results unacceptable, saying "They are symptoms of problems that demand strong corrective actions...."
No kidding. Case volumes were predicted to remain flat. Earnings guidance was reduced to around $0.47 per share for the next quarter, and $0.90 per share for the second half of the year. Oh, by the way, knock off $0.10 per share for "impairment charges" related to a bottling law in Germany.
An 11% knock for the impact of a bottling law in one country? Do I detect the sweet smell of bath oil from an upcoming, supersized soak? Let me check... deep in my crystal ball... I perceive... lower operating expenses and increased profitability in the first half of 2005. (Let me know if I'm wrong.)
At the end of the day, a decision on Coke shares should defer to the cash flow sheet, and that's one place the firm continues to look OK. The $2.96 billion in cash from operations for the first half of this year outpaced net income, usually a good sign. And with capital expenditures around $500 million, free cash flow (FCF) is ample. But if you buy the stock today, the enterprise value is still 17 times the more than $5 billion of FCF during the trailing 12 months. That's cheaper than the market as a whole, but not the discount that the current uncertainty deserves. Fools jonesing for some Coke would do well to wait a bit and see if they can't get a better price.
For related Foolishness:
- No Coke with your toasty sub.
- What's the deal with C2?
- If C2 doesn't do it, why not rename Diet Sprite?
Finding great companies at great prices is tough work, but the Fool's resident bargain hunter comes up with a pair per month in Motley Fool Inside Value . Take a free trial.