As it turns out, Coca-Cola's (KO) "Vision 2020," which calls for the company to "double revenues over the decade" is a lot like IBM's (IBM) now-tattered and abandoned 2015 "roadmap," which was a five-year plan to meet $20 in earnings per share by 2015.
If I recall correctly, one thing Warren Buffett really liked about IBM, when he took a stake, was its road map. No surprise, perhaps, since he is unquestionably the highest-profile director of Coke.
Coke has been struggling to jump-start growth for quarters, and today rolled out a new strategy "to drive stronger growth."
That's a good thing, but it's also a concession that the company is scrambling. In retrospect, it confirms that with its stakes and partnerships with the likes of Green Mountain Coffee (GMCR) and Monster Beverage (MNST), Coke is throwing everything against the wall to see what will stick.
A bigger issue in all of this, of course, is about brands and whether, in the end, the brand will save the day. Betting against good brands can be foolish. Just ask anybody who bet against Starbucks (SBUX). And while The Gap (GPS) took time to turn, it did turn. In the end it was good brand, coupled with good leadership, coupled with extremely good execution, all of which is like hitting the corporate jackpot.
Easier said than done.
For investors, the obvious question is whether these big brands are bargains. Are these just the normal aches and pains of old age? Or are we at that point in business history where these companies have hit that point where there is nothing else they can do?
I can't recall a time when so many big brands have stumbled and conceded their irrelevance all at once. McDonald's (MCD) has gone so far as to concede it has devised a plan to "increase its relevance with customers."
IBM may be in the best position to do something. It can split itself apart, even though CEO Ginni Rommety says it won't. (My guess is she won't be running the company when it does.) Coke can't split. Neither can McDonald's. And they can't expand much more. Does that make them dead money for investors? Consumer-like utilities? Value traps? Or are they the bargains of a lifetime?
Reality: I certainly don't know and, regardless of what they may say, neither does anybody else.
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