"Refresh Yourself" -- Coca-Cola slogan, circa 1923
The sell-off in Coca-Cola Enterprises
What should be worrying investors is that European volume (29% of total sales in 2004) is below expectations and is expected to show a 3% to 4% decline in the third quarter and a 1% to 2% decline for the fiscal year. As if those results were not bad enough, they follow a 4.5% decline last year, when the excuse was that the record summer heat in 2003 was followed by an abnormally cool and rainy summer in 2004.
Surprise! The company is blaming unseasonable weather this year too -- along with weak category demand and slow retail trends. The news doesn't get much better -- on Sept. 1, beverage vending machines were banned in France's public and private schools. This will be even more worrisome if other European countries follow suit.
The news in the U.S. is mixed. Volume growth remains unchanged at 1%, but it's unknown how much hurricane Katrina will cost the company. Earnings are expected to be in the low- to mid-$1.30 range (excluding charges related to Katrina), which is still above the $1.26 per fully diluted share earned in 2004.
Pepsi Bottling Group
But Coca-Cola Enterprises still stands as the world's largest marketer, producer, and distributor of bottled and canned non-alcoholic beverages - CCE represented approximately 21% of Coca-Cola product volume worldwide in 2004.
That's great, but the stock sells for half of what it fetched in 1998. For investors willing to bet that this now-mature company can refresh itself and grow its earnings, today's stock price at near 52-week lows should be very tempting.
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