One year ago, two of my fellow Fools duked it out over Coca-Cola
Tim Beyers argued the bull case for Coke. He pointed out that the company's eponymous brand is consistently rated the best in the world. The name alone was worth two-thirds of the company's enterprise value at the time.
A massive slate of new product launches, high-tech market-data analysis tools, and a newfound focus on health-conscious beverages all helped fuel Tim's optimism, and partly helped Coke outperform archrival PepsiCo
Some of the biggest names on Wall Street voted for Coke with their wallets last year, and Tim liked how "new-wave CEO Neville Isdell's investments are beginning to pay off through increased returns on capital."
On the other side of the fence stood Duel-maestro Rick Munarriz himself, armed with valuation concerns and unexciting earnings trends.
Rick took a stand against not only Tim, but also Motley Fool Inside Value head analyst Philip Durell, who singled Coke out as an excellent value back in January 2005. The stock price had gained a mere 6% since that selection, but Rick thought that the lack of organic case volume growth outweighed the still historically low P/E ratio.
To his mind, Coke's massive size had become a disadvantage, leaving the company slow to react to nimble challengers like Hansen Natural
Shrinking brand value. Tumbling share price. Deteriorating growth prospects. Ouch. Talk about living up to your ticker symbol.
When the smoke cleared, Tim was the last Fool standing -- though hardly in a convincing knockout fashion. 49.1% of 269 voting Fools took Tim's side in this argument, versus 42.4% for Rick. The remaining 8.5% couldn't pick a winner.
Market data tells the same story in stronger words. Coke shareholders have enjoyed a 20% run-up in price since the day of the original Duel, handily beating the S&P 500, Pepsi, or the pop-bottling duo of Coca-Cola Enterprises
Finally, there's the CAPS factor. Our investor community has warmed up to the stock lately, and it has earned that elusive fourth star at last.
In toto, then, you could call this a three-time bullish closing bell, securing Tim's initial skin-of-his-teeth victory.
You put the lime in the Coke, you nut
From where I stand as an interested Coke shareholder, the events of the last year have generally made me happy. Coke Zero turned out to be a hit, and the company is putting up a good show across the globe. For example, I can speak to the brand's dominance in Guatemala, where Pepsi runs a distant second in marketing pull and availability, and Orange Crush by Cadbury Schweppes
Pepsi may be riding high on snack foods and oatmeal, and that company's management team likes to credit its product diversity for its successes. By contrast, Coke remains mostly a beverage operation, where the diversity is largely geographical.
The new brand value rankings are in, and Coke remains the top dog there. That element accounts for just 50.6% of the enterprise value today, though, simply because the company is worth more today as a whole.
And it's nice to see the retro-style redesign of the cans and bottles. Isdell is taking the company back to the basics -- marketing 101 and syrup brewing for freshmen. But that doesn't mean that the brand is getting boring by any means. After an initial balk, Coke embraced the Eepybird craze of dropping Mentos candies into bottles of Diet Coke to produce fizzy high-powered fountains, and there's plenty of word-of-mouth marketing baked into that sort of fad.
So Coke remains the pure play as a massively global beverage producer, leaving the edibles to Pepsi. Hansen and company are the explosive upstarts, but the risk may be greater than the rewards, and valuations are still exospherical.
OK, so I have a small stake in Hansen, too, because I like its Rule Breaking mentality and the company's chances. But Coke is a much larger ingredient in my portfolio, a part of the value base that anchors it against the occasional market storms. And there it will remain.
Tim, you win. And so do we shareholders.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Coke and Hansen, but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure tastes great over ice with a lemon twist.