Long-running beverage industry leader The Coca-Cola Co. (KO) led the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) index Thursday after a bullish call from one team of analysts on the Street who sees the stock as undervalued in light of upside from its ongoing turnaround plan. (See also: Goldman Sachs: Drink in These Beverage Stocks.)
Lauren Liberman of Barclays upgraded shares the Atlanta-based food and beverage giant to overweight from equal weight Thursday, indicating that new products and the diversification of its portfolio of more than 21 billion-dollar brands will help the company navigate the disrupted consumer and retail markets.
"At Barclays we've been really focused on how much change there has been in the consumer landscape," the Barclays analyst told CNBC in an interview. As consumers shift preferences for what they like to eat and put on their bodies, Liberman said that Coke stands out to the investment bank "as a company that has been incredibly proactive in positioning itself to thrive in a new retail environment."
Coke to Deliver 5% Annual Sales Growth Next Year After 10% Decline in 2018
She applauded the "enormous portfolio transformation at Coke," with a great deal of the transition still underway. Liberman called KO's transformation "thoughtful" and "among the most comprehensive we've seen," expecting that it will "drive sustainably better growth, which in turn should yield a higher valuation premium."
She highlighted momentum in the low- and no-sugar soda business, which grew in the double digits last year even though the brand Coke declined slightly. Liberman also applauded Coke's investments in other brands like Smart Water, Honest Tea and other smaller investments, noting that, "when you work at Coke, the brand doesn't have to be your favorite drink anymore, and that is a huge indicator of a cultural change at the company." These investments should help deliver annual sales growth of 5% by 2019 after a more than 10% revenue decline in 2018, according to the analyst.
Barclays expects KO to gain 13.6% over 12 months to reach a price target of $48, up from a previous forecast of $45. Trading about flat on Friday at $42.25, KO reflects a 7.9% decline year-to-date (YTD) and a 3.8% loss over 12 months, underperforming the S&P 500's 1.7% increase and 15.4% return over the same respective periods. (See also: Coca-Cola to Sell Alcoholic Beverages in Japan.)