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David Winters Comments on Coca-Cola Company

March 12, 2014 | About:
Holly LaFon

The Coca-Cola Company (KO) ("Coca-Cola") and Nestlé are examples of the world's most valuable and enduring companies. Unlike some speculative companies whose stock prices soared last year, these two were largely ignored. With total returns for 2013 of 17% and 13% respectively (including dividends), Coca-Cola and Nestlé fell into the overlooked category. Rather than get caught up in the speculative frenzy which consumed much of the market, we used the relative weakness in Coca-Cola and Nestlé as an opportunity to add to the Fund's positions.

In 2013, Coca-Cola was impacted by a new 'soda tax' in Mexico. While soda taxes make for attention grabbing headlines, we believe the underlying reality of Coca-Cola's business is as strong as ever. Coca-Cola's portfolio of drinks is extremely diverse in both brands and geography. In fact, of the 16 Coca-Cola brands that have over $1 billion in annual sales, only three (Coke, Sprite, and Fanta) are sugar-sweetened soft drinks. The majority of their $1 billion brands are comprised of sugar-free soft drinks, juices, teas, and waters. Beyond that, a sugar tax has been implemented in only one country, Mexico, and proposed implementation of such a tax in other countries has been met with firm resistance. While Mexico is a significant market for Coca-Cola, we believe the ultimate impact to the company's bottom line will be muted as consumers there switch to sugar-free versions of soft drinks and other healthier Coca-Cola offerings.

Coca-Cola's business is also affected by the volatility in emerging markets as it continues to grow its footprint globally and create shareholder value by streamlining its bottling operations in the United States and elsewhere around the world. The company has been a voracious buyer of its own stock and is in the midst of a share repurchase program totaling 500 million shares worth approximately $20 billion. We are happy to be buying shares alongside the company for a price which we believe will prove to be a bargain in the long-run.

From David Winters (Trades, Portfolio)' Wintergreen Fund (Trades, Portfolio) 2013 message to shareholders.


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