Diageo is a sin stock, and those stocks have performed the best over the last century. This analysis argues why this is likely to continue.
Background and summary of Diageo:
Diageo produces alcohol – lots of it – hence a “sin-stock”. Tobacco and alcohol stocks have produced spectacular gains over the last century, and Diageo is not different: 12% CAGR since 2000.
Diageo is a result of the merger between the famous beer producer Guinness and Grand Metropolitan in 1997, which formed one of the biggest distillers companies in the world. However, its origins can be traced back back to the 17th century and the Haig family, the oldest family of Scotch whiskey distillers.
Being a “sin-stock,” the business model is pretty easy to understand, and we can expect little variations in sales and profitability. Diageo is, of course, very profitable, with high free cash flow conversion and margins.
As of writing (April 2020), the forward PE is around 20. Due to the coronavirus, the company has issued a profit warning, but I expect the sales to return to normal within a few months to a year. I believe Diageo will be a pretty “safe” investment over the next decades. I’m long with a small position.
Its main listing is in London, where it has the ticker code DGE, and its secondary listing is on the NYSE (DEO).
The brands of Diageo:
Despite being the world’s largest distiller, Diageo might be an unknown name for many, but some of their brands are well-known:
- Johnnie Walker (ranked number one brand in value)
- Smirnoff (ranked number one brand in volume)
- Captain Morgan
According to the company’s latest investor presentation, 20 of the world’s top 100 spirits brands belong to Diageo.
Scotch (whiskey) is the most important part of their business:
|Segment||% of sales|
The revenue is spread like this:
|Region||% of sales|
|Europe and Turkey||23|
|Latin America and the Caribbean||9|
Emerging markets constitute about 40 of sales, markets that are expected to grow faster than developed markets.
The market is both concentrated and fragmented. Just a few global players dominate the international market, Diageo being one of them, while the domestic and regional levels are more fragmented.
M&A is in the DNA of Diageo, and I expect to see more of if it in the future. Over the last years, Diageo has divested the weaker brands with low margins to focus more on their premium brands with higher margins. The wine business was exited in 2015/16. This strategy has paid off so far, with organic growth higher than the industry.
Diageo’s performance has been better than most stocks:
According to the authors of Triumph of the Optimists, alcohol has been the best sector in the UK stock market over the last 100 years with substantial outperformance.
Since 2000 Diageo has compounded, with dividends reinvested, at 12% annually, way better than all international stock indices, even better than Berkshire Hathaway.
Perhaps even better, the rolling three-year CAGR has never been below minus 2% in this period. Of all the stocks I have looked at, this has only been achieved by very few select growth stocks.
This table summarizes the most important key numbers:
|EPS in pence||sales growth||improvement||cashflow||ROIC|
EPS has grown at 6.1% since 2010, lower than the share price. Thus, multiple expansion has been one of the main drivers of share performance, and this tailwind can not continue endlessly.
Diageo’s dividend, buybacks, and stewardship:
Many own Diageo because of the dividend.
However, I believe this is the wrong approach because you can sell shares to get income. The focus should be on total returns. The aim of paying a steadily rising dividend has the potential of attracting a bunch of shareholders that only care about the dividend and not so much about generating high total returns. It simply makes the capital allocation process very sticky and inflexible.
The dividend has grown at 6.1% since 1999, more or less the same growth as the EPS, and the payout ratio is between 45 to 60%.
The dividend is paid twice a year: A smaller interim dividend and a bigger final dividend.
At today’s price of 25 GBP, the dividend yield is 2.7%, the highest since early 2017. Because of multiple expansions, the yield was consistently over 3% before 2016. Currently, there are no withholding taxes on UK dividends.
Buybacks are moderate as the dividend is made a priority over buybacks. A buyback plan was initiated in 2018 and the share count has been reduced from 630 million to about 595 million.
Unfortunately, most managers are not good at capital allocation, and so far, the buybacks have been done at multiples higher than the current one. In April 2020, they temporarily stopped the buybacks when the stock was down 20-25% from its peak.
I believe stewardship to be pretty standard. Diageo has been involved in many M&A, and most seem to be done at acceptable multiples, except for some “unlucky” deals in China.
This is not an owner-operated company; thus, we can expect to have issues with the agency problem: the board and management have minimum ownership of the business.
I believe Diageo is one of the companies that can manage decent returns even with mediocre management because of its sticky products.
Does Diageo have a moat?
Investing in a stock that can resist competitive threats and generate abnormal profits is what all investors are looking for. Such a stock can compound investment returns at consistently above-average rates over the long term.
Unfortunately, these stocks are far between, and many of them sooner or later reverse fortunes. Two industries that have stood the test of time are tobacco and alcohol, so-called sin stocks.
Diageo has high rates of free cash flow (about 20%) and a high return on invested capital (ROIC – 14% average).
- Alcohol is unlikely to go out of fashion.
- Brands – intangible assets.
- Wide distribution network, sales in 190 countries.
- Less disruption from online sales due to age verification requirements.
- Cost advantage: according to Morningstar Diageo’s market share gives them bargaining power for raw materials (27% share). However, the whiskey and distiller market competes on differentiation and taste. Smaller distillers can have a premium simply because some consumers prefer that product, and many small distillers have the same margins as Diageo.
Diageo’s balance sheet and debt:
The current coronavirus crisis shows the importance of having moderate debt levels and low leverage to ensure investor confidence.
Diageo strives to have a rating of A+ or better by keeping EBITDA/total debt to about 35%, which is investment grade, and ensures low borrowing costs and confidence. This keeps the interest coverage ratio between 5 and 8.
Diageo has a long runway:
The company is already the market leader in many of its brands. Despite this, I believe there is a long future runway because markets are still fragmented in many of its brands.
It’s a mature market that grows slowly, around 1-2% annually. This means market share and consolidation are needed to sustain the growth of the past.
About 40% of sales come from emerging markets, expected to grow faster than developed markets over the following decades.
Risk for Diageo:
Diageo issued a profit warning in 1Q 2020 because of reduced sales in China during the lockdown, showing even alcohol gets disrupted.
In addition, as of writing this article in the summer of 2020, a press release confirms it’s halting its stock buyback program and suspending its financial guidance.
However, the interim dividend due in April goes as planned. In mainland China, Diageo said it’s beginning to see a very slow return of consumption, while most bars are shut in the U.S. and Europe. However, retail stores have offset some of the losses from bars.
No doubt alcohol is costing society overall a lot of indirect problems and costs, and thus governments increase excise taxes and regulations. The effects of increased regulation were recently seen in China where the government scrutinized gifts to government officials and subsequently lowered demand for scotch (!).
According to Morningstar, distilled spirits are more cyclical than other consumer staples, including brewing, and more correlated to general economic cycles: spirits and GDP are correlated 0.8 while beer brewers only 0.3.
Diageo is now selling at the lowest multiples since Brexit in 2016. It’s not cheap nor a bargain, but Diageo rarely is, bar a major crisis. As long as the interest rates are at an all-time low, Diageo will trade at PE above 20 as a “normal” multiple.
What rate of return can you expect in Diageo over the next decade? I like to keep things simple and use late John Bogle’s very simple formula for calculating future returns over the next decade (or longer):
Dividend yield + earnings growth + multiple expansion = annual growth.
If we expect the same growth as over the last two decades, which is about 6%, and the same valuation in ten years’ time, we can expect around 9% (6 + 2.7).
It will not set the world on fire, but I expect lower returns in the leading stock indices. Thus, I believe it will continue to outperform. A bonus is multiple expansions.
Disclosure: I am not a financial advisor. Please do your own due diligence and investment research or consult a financial professional. All articles are my opinion – they are not suggestions to buy or sell any securities.