Editor's Note: This article was originally published on Real Money at 10 a.m. EDT on Oct. 7.
NEW YORK (Real Money) -- Beverage and snack food giant PepsiCo(PEP) - Get Report reported better-than-expected third-quarter earnings, if you are willing to treat write-offs from its Venezuelan unit as a nonrecurring event. Adjusted earnings per share were $1.35 vs. last year's $1.32, or about six cents ahead of the consensus view. Management raised full-year guidance to $4.65. Shortly after Tuesday's opening, the shares touched $98. They've remained above that level as of midday Wednesday.
PEP is well-financed, low beta and sports an almost 3% dividend. Is it a stock you want to continue holding or buy more of?
Since 2007, Pepsi has not been a barn burner. It has underperformed the broad market by quite a bit even after figuring in the yield. Growth has languished in the single digits and figures to remain in that neighborhood for the foreseeable future.
The company's high profile and perceived low risk masked that modest growth. Investors ponied up an average price-to-earnings multiple of 17.8x over the past seven years, while typically receiving about 2.9% in annual income.
Back in 2008, overenthusiastic traders paid almost 25x profits at that year's peak of $79.80 (red-starred in the chart below). Paying too much rarely works out well. Early in 2014, PEP was still available for as low as $77.
Many investors never learn. Late in 2014, PEP once again bubbled up to almost 24x earnings. Even after Tuesday's good news, buyers near that high are still slightly underwater.
It's not that you couldn't make money with Pepsi. Buying when the company's multiple was lower than normal and its yield was higher than average often led to decent gains (green-starred entry points).
At $97.85, PEP still commands a pretty expensive 21.0x multiple. Its yield is a tad below normal even with a gradually expanding payout ratio. If PepsiCo hits forward estimates but reverts to a normalized valuation, it would only support an $83 target by year-end 2015 and about $90 by early 2017.
Allow for a 20 P/E due to the zero-interest rate policy premium and you'll still come up with a year-end 2016 goal of not much more than today's quote.
If you own and love Pepsi, please don't shoot the messenger. Research firm Morningstar uses different methodology but came to a very similar conclusion. They are officially neutral on the stock, but see "fair value" below today's price, at just $97.
Why chase or hold this low-growth name, near its all-time high, when so many other high-quality shares are down 20% to 40%?
Don't be the next over-optimistic group to sit with PEP through long periods of poor stock action. PepsiCo offers modest upside at best, which is more than balanced by at least $5 to $10 per share of risk.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no position in the stocks mentioned.