After better-than-expected earnings results were released earlier this month by archrival PepsiCo(PEP) - Get Report , it would seem the pressure is on Coca-Cola(KO) - Get Report to not only exceed Wall Street's earnings estimates when it reports third-quarter earnings Wednesday, but also to demonstrate it's not losing ground to its smaller competitor.
For the quarter that ended in September, the average analyst earnings estimate calls for 50 cents a share on revenue of $11.57 billion, compared to the year-ago quarter, when Coca-Cola earned 53 cents a share on revenue of $11.98 billion. For the fiscal year ending in December, earnings are projected to decline 1% year over year to $2.01 a share, while revenue of $44.74 billion would mark a year-over-year decline of 3%.
Shares of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola are down around 1% so far in 2015 and down about 2% over the past year, due to slumping soda sales. While that performance is still better than the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) and the S&P 500 (SPX) index turned in during those periods, it wasn't enough to beat PepsiCo, which is up some 6% on the year and 9% over the past twelve months.
Coca-Cola's revenues and profits have also been under pressure due to concerns about artificial sweeteners and rising obesity rates. But changes are coming, and investors would be better served to focus less on the past and more on the value the company is building.
In September, for instance, the company announced plans for its National Product Supply System (NPSS), which will streamline and optimize its bottling operation in the U.S. The goal of NPSS is to help Coca-Cola not only achieve the lowest manufacturing and delivery costs possible, but to also increase its competitive advantages via systemwide investments.
"Importantly, we believe the NPSS structure allows us to leverage our significant system scale with the unique competitive advantage of being able to act with speed," said Sandy Douglas, Executive Vice President and President, Coca-Cola North America. To the extent NPSS, which is expected to be completed by 2018, can help Coca-Cola achieve higher profit margins by eliminating waste, the stock will respond favorably.
At the same time, Coca-Cola continues to innovate, recently partnering with Keurig Green Mountain (GMCR) to offer consumers a way to make their own cold carbonated beverages at home: The "Kold" machine, which produces individual eight-ounce fizzy beverages.
It remains to be seen how profitable this attempt to take on Sodastream's(SODA) - Get Report products will be. With KO stock still hovering within its tight three-year trading range, now's the time to buy -- because it will have to break out at some point. Not only does the stock have a consensus buy rating and an average price target of $45, 7% higher than the $41.99 price it closed at Monday, Coca-Cola also pays a solid 33 cent quarterly dividend that yields 3.27% annually -- higher than the 2.00% yield returned by the average S&P 500 dividend payer.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.