Personal Finance > Investing
Coke vs. Pepsi: the new cola wars
Forget about how Vanilla Coke and Pepsi Blue taste. Which stock is better: Coca-Cola or PepsiCo?
May 10, 2002: 6:22 PM EDT
By Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The Beatles or the Backstreet Boys? Star Trek or Star Wars? Yankees or Mets? They say you must like either one or the other.

And the same goes for Coke and Pepsi. But while it may be true for the sodas, does it hold for the stocks?

graphic graphic
Shares of Coca-Cola (KO: Research, Estimates) and PepsiCo (PEP: Research, Estimates) have been on a tear this year, with each posting solid gains in an otherwise dismal market. Coke has surged 20.3 percent year to date while Pepsi is up 7.2 percent. The two currently are trading just a hair off their 52-week highs.

But some analysts and fund managers think the trendier Pepsi has more fizz left in its stock than Coke.

Coca-Cola is launching a new product, Vanilla Coke, next week (May 15) while Pepsi recently announced that it will start selling a berry flavored cola, Pepsi Blue, in August. With Vanilla Coke, the company seems to be banking on nostalgia. (John Travolta's character in "Pulp Fiction" ordered a Vanilla Coke at a 50's themed diner, for example.)

Pepsi Blue, on the other hand, seems to be a concerted attempt to reach out to the hipper, younger demographic that drinks Pepsi's Mountain Dew. And embracing that demographic has worked. The launch of Code Red, a cherry-flavored version of Mountain Dew, last year helped Pepsi increase its market share. According to the Beverage Market Corporation, unit volume for all of Pepsi's soda brands (including Diet Pepsi and Mountain Dew for example) increased 1.3 percent in 2001 while volume for Coke's carbonated beverage brands (Diet Coke, Cherry Coke and Sprite among others) declined by .2 percent.

"This is a mistake for Coke. Pepsi is going after the right market. Younger audiences are going to buy more of Pepsi Blue. I don't see any edge in vanilla," says Ted Parrish, co-manager of the Henssler Equity Fund. As of April 30, Pepsi was the fund's second-largest holding. The fund does not own Coke.

Pepsi is not as pricey

Regardless of which soda you like better though, Pepsi seems the better value than Coke right now. Coke is trading at a nearly 20 percent premium to Pepsi based on 2002 P/Es even though the two companies' earnings growth rates are nearly identical. (Pepsi's are actually a shade higher.)

And when you look at revenues, the gap is even more dramatic. Coke is trading at 7 times estimated 2002 sales while Pepsi is trading at 3.5 times 2002 revenue estimates. Both companies are expected to post slight declines in sales this year and an increase of about 4 percent in 2003. Due to this disparity in valuation, Jeff Kanter, an analyst with Prudential Securities, says he has a "buy' rating on Pepsi and "hold" on Coke. Prudential does not do investment banking.

To be sure, Coke is still the market share leader in soft drinks. One of the main reasons the stock has outperformed Pepsi this year was because it reported a better than expected gain in unit volume in the first quarter. And the company has taken steps to cement its carbonated beverage lead as well gain ground in the bottled water market. (Coke and Pepsi both have their own brands of water, Dasani and Aquafina, respectively.)

On Tuesday, Coke announced that it was acquiring the Seagram's line of mixers, tonic, ginger ale and seltzer from Diageo and Pernod Ricard. And last month, Coke entered into an agreement with Group Danone to distribute Evian bottled water in North America.

Some pretzels with that soda?

But while Coke relies solely on beverages for growth, another factor in Pepsi's favor is its diversity. "What attracts me to Pepsi is I have more faith in their ability to grow earnings. Not only are they successful on the beverage side but they are successful with salty snack foods," says Crit Thomas, director of growth equity for National City Investment Management Co., the subadvisor for Armada Funds. As of March 31, Pepsi was the seventh-largest holding in the Armada Tax Managed Equity Fund and the tenth-largest holding in the Armada Equity Growth Fund.

In fact, Pepsi's carbonated beverages are not even the biggest generator of sales and earnings for the company. Pepsi's Frito-Lay brand of snack foods, which include Fritos, Doritos and Rold Gold, accounted for 61.2 percent of revenue and 65.3 percent of operating profits in the first quarter.

Pepsi's soft drink business made up 19 percent of sales and 23.2 percent of operating profit. Pepsi also owns Gatorade and Quaker Foods, having acquired Quaker Oats last year.

One potential risk for both Pepsi and Coke is the economy. No, not if it goes back into a recession. If the economy continues to improve, the stocks could fall victim to what is known as sector rotation, the selling of defensive companies like food and beverages in order to buy more economically sensitive companies in the financial services and technology sectors. To that end, shares of Pepsi and Coke fell slightly on Wednesday during the Cisco-induced market rally.

Still, Thomas says signs that the dollar is starting to weaken compared to other currencies should prop up both stocks. That's because a weaker dollar helps boost the profits of international subsidiaries, since profits made in a foreign currency are converted back to dollars. The majority of Coke's sales are from its international operations, with just 38 percent of revenue coming from the U.S. last year. Pepsi is not as big globally but currency fluctuations are still a factor, as international sales accounted for 29 percent of revenue in 2001.

More than just two soda stocks

But if you're not a fan of either Pepsi or Coke, there actually are several other beverage stocks out there. And they're trading at lower valuations. Cadbury Schweppes (CSG: Research, Estimates), the British confectioner, owns the Dr Pepper, 7 Up, A&W and Royal Crown brands of soda. It too is joining the new round of cola wars, introducing Red Fusion, a fruit flavored version of Dr Pepper, Friday. Red Fusion will hit the market in July. Cadbury Schweppes' stock trades at a sizable discount to Coke and Pepsi, with a P/E of 16.7 based on 2002 earnings estimates. Earnings are expected to increase 12.5 percent this year.

Cott (COTT: Research, Estimates), the largest maker of private label sodas, trades at 26 times 2002 earnings estimates but it's growth prospects for this year and next are better than Coke and Pepsi. Analysts expect Cott's earnings to increase 34.5 percent this year and 23 percent in 2003.

Finally, for you Shasta fans out there (we know there are some), there is National Beverage (FIZ: Research, Estimates), which owns Shasta and Faygo, a brand of carbonated beverages popular in the Midwest. The stock is thinly traded and has no analyst coverage, but for what it's worth it is trading at less than one times last year's sales.  Top of page