Coca-Cola risks being unseated as the highest-valued beverage company after a dominant 17-year run at the top, analyst says

PepsiCo is on course to take over as the biggest US beverage company by market value, supplanting rival Coca-Cola, which has held the spot largely uninterrupted for the better part of two decades.

That’s according to Wall Street analysts including Kaumil Gajrawala at Jefferies, who has initiated coverage of PepsiCo with a buy rating, calling it the sector’s “most durable business.” He projects the shares will rise more than 20% over the next year to $203, for a market value of about $279 billion. That would top the roughly $277 billion market capitalization implied by his $64 target for Coca-Cola, which he rates a hold.

The call, echoed by analysts from Cowen and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., would mark a telling reversal for the soda giants: Aside from a single day in 2020, PepsiCo’s value hasn’t eclipsed Coca-Cola’s since 2006. At roughly $246 billion on Monday, Coca-Cola’s market cap is nearly $15 billion above PepsiCo’s.

Coca-Cola has long held down the top spot in part due to its strong brand portfolio and record of sales growth. But PepsiCo’s food business, including Lay’s potato chips, Doritos and Quaker oatmeal, has become a key differentiator. Gajrawala expects PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay North America business will continue to outperform its other products. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola is exclusively a beverage company.

For PepsiCo, “hefty investments over the last half decade are yielding results, and we expect returns to accelerate,” Gajrawala wrote in a note to clients, highlighting that the company has invested about $60 billion over the past five years to make operations more efficient, increase capacity and build its brand.

The analyst touted PepsiCo’s ability to grow during challenging economic periods, like in the aftermath of the pandemic. He sees it as the most likely company in his beverage and household products coverage to grow earnings in a range of high-single digits or better over the next three years.

Meanwhile, he see limited room for Coca-Cola to advance at its current valuation. A tax dispute with the Internal Revenue Service also clouds its outlook. 

Read more: Coca-Cola Appeal of $882 Million Tax Ruling Poses Challenges

Coca-Cola is hardly falling out of favor on Wall Street, and by one measure is the preferred stock. Its consensus rating — a proxy for the ratio of buy, hold and sell recommendations — is 4.6 out of five, data compiled by Bloomberg show. PepsiCo’s is 4.1 out of five.

Both stocks have trailed the S&P 500 Consumer Staples Index this year. PepsiCo has slumped around 7%, while Coca-Cola has dropped about 10%. Both touched one-year lows in October amid worries that people taking so-called GLP-1 drugs — a class of medicines used to treat diabetes and obesity — will cut back on indulgences. 

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