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Coke — Not Pepsi — Tastes Better to Investors

Coca-Cola will benefit from its focus on the beverage business


While Coca-Cola‘s (NYSE:KO) and PepsiCo‘s (NYSE:PEP) colas each have millions of fans, there’s still millions more who really don’t notice a difference. But investors sure see one in their stocks. In the past year, KO shareholders have watched their money grow by about 12% — while PEP shareholders have lapped up a 1.5% loss.

Both companies recently reported earnings, so it’s worth taking a gander under the hood to see the latest performance, what to expect going forward and whether Coca-Cola should continue to be the better of the rival companies.

Execution: Coca-Cola enjoyed another standout performance in the first quarter, with global volume up a healthy 5%. Part of this has been KO’s ability to pull share away from other companies — hey, like Pepsi! Consider that Pepsi-Cola has sunk to the No. 3 name in the U.S. market, with Coca-Cola and Diet Coke in the lead.

As far as the sheer numbers go, Coca-Cola managed an 8% increase in profits to $2.05 billion on revenues that grew 6% to $11.14 billion, with earnings of 89 cents per share beating analyst expectations. Meanwhile, Pepsi managed an earnings beat, too, but on declining profits of $1.13 billion, though revenues did increase by 4% to $12.4 billion.

Marketing Savvy: This obviously is a key for Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Both rely heavily on their incredible brands to keep people buying their drinks without resorting to discounting.

But Coca-Cola has the edge here, too. The company has been creative with leveraging social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and it recently signed a deal with Spotify, a fast-growing online music service. Coca-Cola also should see a boost from its sponsorship of the Olympics in London.

Pepsi, on the other hand, has been lagging — and the company has noticed. PEP plans to increase its spending on advertising and marketing by $500 million to $600 million in 2012.

Snack Business: Coca-Cola doesn’t have one, so Pepsi obviously is the dominant player in snacks, which serves to greatly diversify the business. However, that same business also can be a distraction that at times could make it tougher to devote appropriate attention and resources to the beverage segment.

At the same time, the competition is only getting more intense. In past months, Kellogg (NYSE:K) has agreed to buy the Pringles business from Proctor & Gamble (NYSE:PG) for $2.7 billion, which will make Kellogg the No. 2 player in the market — and potentially a greater threat to PepsiCo.

Management: Coca-Cola has one of the best management teams around. The company’s CEO, Muhtar Kent, has been with the company since 1978. Since then, he has served in marketing and operations. He also spent much of his career outside the U.S., which is crucial considering emerging-market countries are a huge growth area.

Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi also is a strong leader. Before becoming CEO in 2006, she spearheaded the divesture of Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM) and the mergers of the anchor bottlers.

Still, as CEO, Nooyi has allowed Pepsi to lose ground to Coca-Cola. While the board appears to have her back, shareholders have their doubts. Some even want Pepsi to split up the snack business, similar to what Kraft (NYSE:KFT) is doing.

Bottom Line: No doubt, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi are world-class companies. They have tremendous brand portfolios and huge barriers to entry. And each are appealing from a dividend standpoint, with KO yielding 2.7% and PEP 3.1%.

However, Coca-Cola should continue to benefit from its focus and heavy investments in marketing, which will make it harder for Pepsi to get back its momentum despite its own allocations.

So in the Coca-Cola/Pepsi battle, the winner — for investors — is Coca-Cola.

Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPO Playbook, a site dedicated to the hottest news and rumors about initial public offerings. He also is the author of “The Complete M&A Handbook”, “All About Short Selling” and “All About Commodities.” Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli or reach him via email. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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