Pepsi, Gross: 58%, Operating: 14%
Dr. Pepper, Gross: 62%, Operating: 19%
The larger beverage manufacturers also have fast-growing emerging-markets units. Still, in the performance category, National Beverage has delivered. Its stock has gained 20% a year, on average, since 2008, besting Coke's 3.3% annualized return, Pepsi's 3.3% annualized loss and Dr. Pepper's 5% annualized increase. In the case of soda stocks, bigger isn't necessarily better. Other top performers include Cott ( COT), which has rallied 54% a year, on average, since 2008, and Hansen ( HANS), which has climbed 10% annually. Jones Soda ( JSDA), down 36% a year, has doubled in the past 12 months as earnings stretched 8.3%. Similar to the craft-beer movement, there may be a craft-soda movement afoot. Hip consumers enjoy regional brands such as those offered by National, throwbacks like Cott's RC Cola, and unique flavors like the green-apple and blue-bubble gum tonics of Jones Soda.
Although all of the small-cap pop purveyors are attractive for idiosyncratic reasons, National's lofty special dividends, consistent stock performance and discount valuation make it a compelling play for 2011. Also, it's still flying under the radar, with only one major sell-side brokerage, Stifel Financial, covering the stock, which receives a "hold" ranking. National Beverage sells for a trailing earnings multiple of 16, a forward earnings multiple of 14, a book value multiple of 3.5, a sales multiple of 1 and a cash flow multiple of 9.8, 10%, 16%, 27%, 74% and 28% discounts to beverage peer averages. Its PEG ratio, calculated by dividing the stock's trailing P/E by researchers' long-term terminal earnings growth forecast, of 0.8 demonstrates a 20% discount to estimated fair value. Growth is solid. Since 2008, National Beverage has boosted sales, net income and earnings per share 2.9%, 17% and 17%, annually, on average. Over that span, its profitability metrics have improved, with return on equity rising from 14% in the fiscal second-quarter of 2009 to 15% in last year's fiscal second quarter and 22% in the recently reported period. Return on assets expanded from 11% to 14% in the latest quarter. With growing book value and exposure to consumer non-discretionary spending, this is a stock to consider as risks elevate in U.S. markets. The Fed's quantitative easing is slated to end in June and, following the conclusion of the first round, a risk-off trade coincided with the relative outperformance of defensive plays. National Beverage is a stock to keep an eye on. Its subsidiaries bottle store-brand soda, as well, and bulk offerings at stores such as Target ( TGT) and Costco ( COST), might regain appeal as energy costs are on the rise and unemployment remains elevated. A heightened level of consumer confidence, evident in the recent two-year high in the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, is causing many to question the sustainability of optimism, with so many economic structural headwinds still blowing.
-- Written by Jake Lynch in Boston.
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