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Despite the ongoing debt crisis in Europe, and the insane market volatility that comes with it, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the economy has turned a corner. In the long run, I think equities markets will follow a generally upward, though very rocky, path. At this time next year, my best guess for the Dow Jones Industrial Average is to be around 13,050, and for the S&P 500, roughly 1,365 — about 10% higher than today in both cases.
While such gains would be great, the possibility raises a pressing issue — getting certain high-quality, dividend-paying blue chip stocks before prices become prohibitive. [It's exactly times like these -- just before the stock market is likely to go on a major run -- that makes it ideal to scoop up these "forever stocks," which StreetAuthority Co-founder Paul Tracy talks about in this special presentation.]
I could be talking about any number of “forever stocks,” but the one I have in mind is The Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO). Because of its huge size, global presence and enduring business, the stock’s a great safe haven. It’s much less volatile than the market, so it lets you sleep better, and it’s yielding a solid 2.8%. But at around $68 per share, Coca-Cola has pretty much hit fair value.
There are numerous signs of this, including the stock’s price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 12.5, which isn’t far below the average P/E ratio for the soft drinks industry, which is 13.7. The stock’s price-to-sales (P/S) ratio of 3.4 is already noticeably higher than the industry average of 2. So is Coca-Cola’s price-to-cash flow (P/CF) ratio — currently 17.4, compared with an industry average of 13.
Even so, shares are worth current prices because Coca-Cola is likely to keep thriving. Sales have risen 9% annually for the past five years, and analysts project 10.5% growth for the next five years. Earnings, which posted 9% annual growth during the prior five years, are expected to advance 10% annually. Analysts foresee solid dividend growth of 9.5% a year, only slightly off the 10.5% pace of the previous five years.
Although mature North American markets will certainly continue to be a crucial revenue source, they may not contribute all that much to future growth. Sales in the region have been unimpressive, rising by only 1% in the third quarter, for instance. As is the case for most top companies these days, by far the best results are to be found in emerging markets like China, where sales volume rose 11%, India (19%) and Mexico (8%) in the third quarter. Emerging markets should provide the best growth opportunities in the long-term, too, as people in those regions become progressively wealthier and demand more bottled beverages.
Because of this, Coca-Cola plans to invest $20 billion in emerging markets by 2020, focusing mainly on Africa, Mexico, Russia and China. One of the latest investments, announced April 12 of this year, was a three-year, $62-million spending program to upgrade existing facilities in Kenya, which include seven bottling plants and 22 production lines. Of the $20 billion Coca-Cola plans to invest in emerging markets during the next nine years, $12 billion is earmarked for Kenya because management is especially bullish on the African region.
Risks to consider: Rising commodity prices have been a major obstacle for many companies, including Coca-Cola. Greater-than-expected price increases in the future, particularly for sugar, could significantly reduce earnings.
Action to Take –> Analysts see Coca-Cola’s stock rising to between $105 and $130 a share by the end of 2016, a projected gain of about 55-90% from current prices. Considering the potential headwind of rising commodity costs, and the fact that the Federal Reserve is now forecasting much slower economic growth than it originally predicted, I think the lower end of those ranges is probably more realistic.
Still, even if the stock were only to rise 55%, you’d still be looking at an annual return of 11.6% for the next four years — not bad at all, and likely better than what the overall market will deliver during that time. So I disagree with those who say now isn’t the time to invest in Coca-Cola. Now’s an excellent time — just don’t wait too long.
– Tim BeganySource: StreetAuthority