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Under the Radar: Cott's Untapped Potential

Stocks in this article: COT KO PEP

"Under the Radar" is a daily feature that uncovers little-known companies worthy of investors' consideration. Check in at 5 every morning to find out about stocks that tend to beat their bigger brethren. Ontario-based

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario ( TheStreet) -- Even as budget-conscious soda drinkers switched to cheaper alternatives, Cott (COT - Get Report), the world's biggest producer of store-brand pop, lost money in the second half of 2008. The company has returned to profitability this year.

Cott posted a first-quarter profit of 28 cents per share, despite a 6% sales drop, causing its stock to more than double in the week following the earnings release. Cott shares have more than quadrupled this year, trouncing major U.S. indices.

Most people who didn't join the soda rally assume the fun is over and have started looking for the next high-flying stock. But Cott just posted another stellar quarter and its shares are still extraordinarily cheap relative to its peers.

Second-quarter revenue fell 6% to $439 million, but earnings surged on higher margins. Cott swung to a net profit of $34 million, or 48 cents, from a loss of $1.8 million, or 3 cents, in the year-earlier period. Its operating margin climbed from 3% to 9% and the net margin rose from negative territory to 8%. The company cut its staff, which reduced its selling, general and administrative expenses by 21% and helped its bottom line.

Still, the company's cash position is weak, reflected by a quick ratio of 0.8. And a debt-to-equity ratio of 1.2 reflects sizable leverage.

Despite its balance sheet woes, there are reasons to be optimistic about Cott. The stock is still affordable even after rising 354% this year. Based on analysts' estimates, the shares trade at price-to-earnings ratio of 8.2 based on this year's projections and a 7.7 ratio for next year, a vast discount to the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 Index.

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