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Will Coca-Cola Ever Go Flat?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The term "untouchable" has several meanings on the stock market. There's the reference that describes companies that you should never touch, regardless of how cheap the stock looks.

Then there are stocks that somehow never get cheap. It is as if they have become immune to criticism, shielded from the market's punishment regardless of how underwhelming their performances might have been.

This would seem to describe Coca-Cola (KO), whose business, by its own standards, no longer seems as bubbly. I'm not going to try to make excuses for Coca-Cola. But there are a lot of things at play here. Contrary to popular opinion, I don't believe the company's recent decline in revenue is the result of losing share to rival Pepsico (PEP).

The fact is, volume in the soft drink industry has been down across the board -- neither Pepsi or Nestle (NSRGY) have been no exception. But the extent of Coca-Cola's volume struggles, which produced just 1% year-over-year growth, was a disappointment. This was 2% lower than Street expectations, which had already been revised lower more than a month prior to the report.

However, as has been the case for quite some time, Coca-Cola's "flat" performance really didn't seem to matter. The stock, in fact, which has been up by as much as 15% for the year to date, went up by more than 2% in the days following the earnings report.

The reason is simple. Unlike most companies, Coca-Cola has shown an uncanny ability to "struggle" and still grow market share at the same time.

This is a quality that is shared by other iconic brands like McDonald's (MCD) and Nike (NKE). Coca-Cola is safe -- hence its "untouchable" status. Essentially, investors have had no problems paying any sort of premium that Coca-Cola commands, which is why the company never trades at any price below fair value.

I won't argue that this level of trust is has been well earned. But I do wonder how long this can continue, especially with Coca-Cola now posting revenue declines in North America and Europe, which were both down 1% and 4%, respectively. The good news here is that the company has been able to offset its North American struggles with better volume growth in emerging markets like Africa and Latin America.

Stock quotes in this article: KO, PEP, NSRGY, MCD, NKE, DPS 

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