Monster Beverage Deals With Seasonal Sluggishness

By Dan Caplinger Markets Fool.com

Energy-drink giant Monster Beverage (NASDAQ: MNST) has been one of the most successful stocks of the past 15 years, and the company has done a lot to create a brand-new segment of the beverage industry. Yet with a past full of strong growth comes responsibilities to continue to grow, and Monster has more recently started to run into the traditional problems of how to find new avenues for expansion.

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Coming into Thursday's first-quarter financial report, Monster Beverage investors expected the company to see its past growth rates slow somewhat, and seasonal factors also came into play. Yet the energy-drink specialist is also working hard to find ways to expand internationally, and combined with new products, that might help Monster succeed in making more progress toward its long-term goals. Let's look more closely at Monster Beverage and what its results say about its future.

Image source: Monster Beverage.

Monster Beverage looks a little less energetic

Monster Beverage's first-quarter results returned to a slower pace of growth for the company. Net sales climbed 9% to $742.1 million, which was almost exactly what most investors had expected to see. Net income also rose at a 9% clip, finishing at $178 million and working out to $0.31 per share. That figure was $0.01 per share less than the consensus forecast among those following the stock.

Looking more closely at the numbers, Monster saw a reversal of fortune among its primary segments compared to previous quarters. This time around, the Monster Energy drinks segment, which contains the company's legacy brands, posted reasonable 7.5% gains in sales. Yet the strategic brands division, which includes the energy drink brands Monster acquired from Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) as part of a broader partnership and collaboration deal, saw much stronger growth on its top line of 16%. Sales of American Fruits & Flavors products added another $5.5 million in revenue, or less than a percentage point of growth.

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Monster's efforts to appeal to a more global audience have definitely been paying off. Growth in sales to customers outside of the U.S. once again outpaced Monster's overall growth rate by a substantial margin, posting 28% gains compared to the year-ago quarter. From a geographical perspective, Monster continued to move forward with its efforts to gain more international acceptance. Net sales to customers outside the U.S. jumped by a third to $193.5 million, making up more than a quarter of Monster's overall revenue.

Once again, Monster suffered from relatively large gains in expenses that weighed on its bottom line. Gross margin actually improved, but rising overhead expenses and selling costs outpaced Monster's sales gains. Moreover, some one-time distributor termination charges hit Monster's operating income as well.

Yet fundamentally, demand for Monster products remains strong. Case volumes grew 10% to nearly 80 million cases, and that increase more than made up for the less than 2% price decline to $9.21 per case.

What's ahead for Monster Beverage?

Monster Beverage CEO Rodney Sacks continued to see the company's evolution in terms of the way it responds to aligning its distribution system with that of Coca-Cola. Within the U.S., the upper Midwest region made the transition to Coca-Cola bottlers during the quarter, and new launches in various areas in China continued. Monster believes that both China and India should be successful venues for product launches going forward, and that could spur greater growth later in the year.

Yet there are some execution issues Monster will have to resolve in order to make the most of its growth opportunities. In particular, Sacks said that production shortages of the Java Monster and Muscle Monster products weighed on first-quarter results. That suggests demand could be getting ahead of the company's ability to maintain consistent supplies, and Monster will have to move aggressively to expand production capacity as necessary in order to avoid having frustrated customers give up and flee to competing products.

Investors in Monster Beverage weren't entirely happy with the report, and the stock fell about 2% in after-hours trading following the announcement. In order to satisfy shareholders, the energy drink giant is likely to have to pump up its growth to a greater extent and find ways to broaden its product appeal. If it can succeed in doing so, then the Monster brand has plenty of room to grow going forward.

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Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Monster Beverage. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.