Why You Can't Afford to Ignore PepsiCo Stock in 2015

By Markets Fool.com

When it comes to rewarding shareholders, PepsiCo knows best. The stock is now trading around an all-time high of $100 a share, following the company's fiscal 2014 fourth-quarter results in which Pepsi said it would return between $8.5 billion and $9 billion to shareholders through dividends and share buybacks in 2015.

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It's true; Pepsi's earnings were something of a mixed bag as a strong dollar weighed on international revenue in the period. However, there were bright spots in the report that suggest 2015 could be another record year for the soda and snack giant.

Let's take a closer look at what it all means, and why investors don't want to miss out on owning PepsiCo stock in the year ahead.

Putting shareholders first
Recent quarterly results aside, PepsiCo is worth owning for its growing dividend and rich history of creating shareholder value through payouts and share repurchases. Last year, Pepsi rewarded shareholders to the tune of $3.7 billion in dividends and $5 billion in share repurchases for a total of $8.7 billion. Additionally, management recently raised its annual dividend by 7.3% to $2.81 per share, up from $2.62 per share previously.

Source: PepsiCo.

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Looking ahead, Pepsi plans to buy back as much as $12 billion in stock by 2018. On top of this, PepsiCo is a dividend aristocrat, which means it has continuously increased its dividend payout every year for at least the past 25-years running. Investing in reliable dividend stocks, such as those on the aristocrat list is one of the best ways for investors to unlock exceptional returns for years on end.

Pepsi has paid a dividend every year since 1952, and has increased its payout for the past 42 consecutive years. This, together with the company's ability to generate strong cash flow, tell us that Pepsi should have no problem continuing to raise its dividend for many years to come.

Better than Coke?
Pitting PepsiCo against its archenemy Coca-Cola , gives investors even more cause not to ignore the company in the year ahead. Unlike Coke, Pepsi boasts the world's largest snack food business by market share. As a result, Pepsi is able to offset declining soft drink sales in the U.S. thanks to its robust Frito-Lay business. Pepsi's snack division now boasts 22 brands that each pull in annual sales north of $1 billion. That compares to a total of 20 "billion-dollar brands" for Coca-Cola today.

Both companies are dividend aristocrats. However, Pepsi grew its fiscal 2014 earnings at a faster clip than Coca-Cola. Pepsi, for example, delivered a full-year profit of $4.63 per share, up 4% from the same period a year ago. Coke, on the other hand, posted an annual profit of $2.04 per share, down from earnings-per-share of $2.08 in the year-ago period. The market also expects PepsiCo to grow faster than Coca-Cola in 2015.

Pepsi's stock, meanwhile, climbed more than 26% in the past year compared to a 17% uptick in the S&P 500 and a meager 12% gain in Coca-Cola over the same period. True, shares of Pepsi are now trading at the top of the stock's 52-week range. However, Pepsi's price-to-earnings ratio of 22is still below Coke's P/E of 23.43 today.

It's also worth noting that Coke's price-to-earnings-growth rate or PEG of 4.28is one of the highest in the industry, and markedly above Pepsi's 3.14 PEG. Therefore, Pepsi stands out as the better soda stock to own in the year ahead, despite the stock's recent rally.

Good things to come
Similar to 2014, Pepsi expects to achieve $1 billion in cost savings in 2015. Additionally, Pepsi proved that it can raise prices in overseas markets without customer backlash -- this should fuel revenue growth in the year ahead. From successful cost cutting and strong earnings to Pepsi's relentless commitment to its shareholders, investors shouldn't ignore PepsiCo stock in 2015.

The article Why You Can't Afford to Ignore PepsiCo Stock in 2015 originally appeared on Fool.com.

Tamara Rutter owns shares of PepsiCo. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. The Motley Fool owns shares of PepsiCo and has the following options: long January 2016 $37 calls on Coca-Cola and short January 2016 $37 puts on Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.