Friday, March 15, 2024

Diageo - the luxury spirits compounder

When we first started out a year ago, we discussed the goal to write one investment idea per month and ultimately getting to 30 ideas. Well time files and we are now at the 15th idea. This is a good one as can be seen in the numbers below (company has FY ending in Jun):

Simple Financials (Jun 2024 estimate, USD)

  • Sales: 21.0bn 
  • EBITDA: 7.2bn 
  • Net income: 4.5bn 
  • FCF: 3.2bn 
  • Debt: 19bn, Mkt Cap 84bn

Financial Ratios

  • ROIC: 13% and ROE: 40%! 
  • EV/EBITDA 13.4x 
  • PER 16.8x 
  • Past margins: OPM 27-31% 
  • FCF yield: 2.4-3.7%

This is another one of the highest quality companies amongst those we have discussed and therefore do not come cheap with average FCF yield in low single digits. It has not traded above 5% FCF yield in the last 10 years and the reason is in the world map below. The company has enjoyed good growth in most geographies (with the exception of North America and Russia), partially supercharged by the pandemic. It also operates in a consumer market segment that has a lot of pricing power as a result of strong brand marketing, the perceived glamour and luxury that comes with the consumption of its products and just strong global demand as the world normalizes from COVID-19.

The company we are discussing today is Diageo (DGE on the London Stock Exchange), the world’s largest spirits maker alongside China’s Kweichow Moutai by revenue but trading at less than half Moutai’s market cap. Diageo owns a few of the most recognizable alcoholic brands such as Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Smirnoff, Tanqueray, Bailey and Casamigos. Share price has compounded nicely over the last 20 years, up more than 4x from GBP6.9 to GBP30.6 today.

In the last few years, Diageo has enjoyed some strange and ironic growth. When the pandemic hit, it was thought that Diageo will be impacted negatively as on-premise drinking died down but revenue grew because people drank more at home! With nothing better to do during covid, they emptied their bottles of whiskies and tequilas and bought some more. Diageo’s revenue skyrocketed.

As air travel resumed, people started moving again and when they roamed the duty free shops at airports with spare foreign currencies they have to spend, they bought more spirits and so Diageo grew some more! Although we are seeing the backlash now and share price has corrected in the recent months.

1. Fundamentals

We have written about Diageo on the original infosite and the investment thesis has not changed much:

Diageo is a global leading spirits company with 200 brands and footprint in 180 countries that has compounded growth steadily since its inception in 1997. Its strong brands, coupled with good marketing, high market share and strong global distribution has enabled the firm to generate consistent, steady free cashflow (FCF) and high ROIC on the back of both pricing and volume growth. The stock has compounded well in the past and shareholders have benefited from both capital appreciation and dividend growth, an important aspect that management has focused on. Investors can expect Diageo to continue to compound at 5-7% going forward.

In the past, Diageo was synonymous with Johnnie Walker, its largest brand with the most amazing story and heritage. Scotch was c.25% of revenue but closer to 35-40% in terms of profit contribution. There is an old 6 min plus Youtube video taken in one shot casting Robert Carlyle who narrated the Johnnie Walker story brilliantly. Every Diageo current and future investor should watch the video. It is just fascinating! Since then, as depicted in the pic above, Diageo has successfully diversified its portfolio from Scotch over the last few years into other spirits.

Today, Diageo’s revenue breakdown is relatively simple to understand. The following pie chart from its latest annual report provides the breakdown which roughly works out to be 22% Scotch / Johnnie Walker, 18% Beer / Guinness, 16% Vodka / Smirnoff while Tequila, Rum and Gin makes up high single digits. Together, its spirits portfolio is the largest in the world and accounts for 70% of market share based on Diageo’s own measure of market segments it competes in. Of course, if we sliced it differently, the market share might be lower, but still, we cannot deny Diageo is dominant in spirits.

In terms of margins, Scotch enjoys one of the highest margins in the portfolio at 35-40% operating margin alongside Tequila and Vodka while Beer and Ready to drink are lower at 15-20%. Well, alcohol is just good business. As per the usual, let’s discuss the few positives on top of the fundamental thesis:


Growth in TAM via volume and premiumization: According to Diageo, the growth in the spirits addressable market is phenomenal and while Diageo has not grown in its North America region this year, the US market is resilient and I believe it also reflects the global growth opportunity for Diageo as 600m consumers come of age and look to drink better and are willing to pay up for that.

The chart below shows how spirits have grown 6% CAGR by taking share from beer and wine in the US and more importantly how the market has premiumised with the ultra premium and super premium categories growing rapidly. This phenomenon is likely global because as middle class consumers increase their income and spending, they seek out the best offering and will not hesitate to pay up to get. In the world of luxury handbags, our better halves only want the best and the most popular: Hermes and LV. Similarly in watches, it’s Patek and Rolex. In the Singapore food scene, it’s either Michelin star restaurant, or the longest queue in the hawker centre’s bak chor mee (minced pork dry noodle) store or Hainanese chicken rice store.

As such, Diageo, with the most recognizable whisky brand globally and a growing portfolio of desirable spirits and beer brands, has benefitted from having both the best and the most popular choices in the spirits space and will continue to do so. This is perhaps the key reason behind management’s confidence and promise to keep growing 5-7% annually.

Distribution prowess: With its long term track record in distribution prowess starting with ship captains more than 150 years ago to the current footprint in 180 countries, Diageo has insurmountable clout in putting its products across the globe in every imaginable shelf. We see Diageo’s spirits prominently in airports, supermarkets, convenient stores, bars, restaurants and online. Diageo tracks inventory at its distributors religiously and make sure its whole supply chain chugs along and delivers.

Strong Financial Metrics: The third positive for Diageo is reflected in the numbers. We have discussed the high OPMs in the various spirits segments. With scale, Diageo has been able to do businesses with less capex (c.5% capex to sales), generating high ROIC and extraordinarily high ROE. Diageo used to generate GBP1bn in FCF a decade ago but that has bumped up to GBP2-3bn.

Its return metrics are best in class with ROICs averaging teens while ROEs are in the 20-40% range with just modest use of leverage. Capex to sales has creeped up in the last two years to high single digit percentage. On average, this should be a mid single digit capex to sales business. The following shows its FCF generation capabilities and ROICs over the last 5 years.

Similar to Thai Beverage, the other alcoholic company we analyzed, the strengths of companies show through in numbers and Diageo’s margins, free cashflow generation, ROEs and ROICs speak for itself. This is a world class business and a classic compounder.


Diageo was helmed by Ivan Menezes who built the company over the decade to 2023 but he unfortunately passed away this year. His legacy is passed to Debra Crew who was appointed Chief Executive this June and she seemed well-supported by a diversified team with varied experience to lead Diageo to greater heights.

Diageo exemplifies the future where corporates balance profitability and growth against environmental and social concerns. While selling alcohol, the company also advocates responsible drinking and is focusing on being a responsible employer for its 28,000 global staff.


Most investments have risks. That is how the game works. The only risk free investment is the first idea introduced - invest in Treasury bills which now gives 3.8%. This is risk free, as per textbooks’ definition. But it is predicated on the continuing existence of Singapore and our government. As such, nothing is without risk. For Diageo, two risks are tepid growth into 2024 and its geographical exposures.

Tepid growth: As discussed earlier, Diageo has enjoyed strong growth going into the pandemic and then going out of the pandemic as air travel resumed. Good times will always end and 2024 is now looking weak. We are seeing inventory piling up at its distributors and adjustment may well run a few quarters. Investors are ultimately short term minded and without growth, Diageo’s high valuation is not sustainable and hence we are seeing its share price correcting from its high at c.GBP40 to current GBP30.6 and looks like we may break that psychological barrier of GBP30.

Geographies: While Diageo is a global company, US ultimately drives revenue and earnings. The chart below shows how North America accounts for majority of sales and Operating Profit (OP) and needless to say, recession in the US will negatively impact Diageo. However, as market goes, hiccups in China, Africa and Latam will also affect share price when short-term investors look at large companies with exposures to these geographies and short them on sentiments.

2. Technicals

Diageo share price chart shows the nice compounding curve that we are familiar with and it recently hit its all-time high at GBP40 before correcting to the recent GBP30 level. At the pandemic low, it was at GBP25 which is, as previous ideas, a strong technical support.

The risk reward profile for Diageo as dictated by technicals is therefore 25/30 vs 40/30 which translates to c.20% downside vs c.30% upside. This means there is almost no skew either way which is usually the case for strong consumer names. It is worth noting though Diageo has had larger drawdowns at 25-30%. So it is not inconceivable that it drops closer to GBP18-20, which is the next strong technical support below GBP25. But let’s look at fundamental valuations for a better picture.

3. Valuations

Diageo trades at a slight discount to peers on PE but is right smack in peers’ average on EV/EBITDA and trades at a slight premium on FCF yield. Its OPM (blended at mid 20s) and ROIC (teens according to the company above) are inline with peers while ROE is exceptionally high. Overall, peer valuation comparison does not suggest Diageo is undervalued.

Next we look at Diageo’s valuations based on the usual three metrics: Free cashflow (FCF), EV/EBITDA and Price Earnings Ratio (PER). The Earnings row is simply FCF (GBP 3bn), EBITDA (GBP 6bn) and Net Income (GBP4bn) respectively and if we apply the appropriate multiples, we get to Intrinsic Values (IV) between GBP33.3 to 35.6 which suggest that Diageo has some upside to its IV but not by a whole lot. There is no big margin of safety buying today.

This corroborates with both peer valuation comparison and technicals and hence it may be prudent to wait for a better opportunity to buy, perhaps closer to GBP25. However, this high quality name rarely gives a big open window for investors to buy a lot at the price we want. If we can establish that GBP25 is a screaming buy, so do other investors and hence it won’t get there. One other angle to look at is dividends. Diageo is considered a UK Dividend Aristocrat, a small group of stocks listed on LSE with increasing or stable dividend for the last 10 years. The following bullet points provide more details:

Diageo's dividends 

  • Track record of increasing dividend since 2001 and in the last few years, consistent dividend growth between GBp1.5-3.8 annually 
  • Enhanced shareholder return with further share buybacks 
  • Paid out c.GBP5 in dividends over the last 7 years which accounts 16% of today’s share price 
  • Current dividend yield of GBP 0.8/30.6 = 2.6%

With that in mind, I would ascribe the higher IV of GBP36 for Diageo which implies high teens upside but would look to buy more closer at GBP25.

Huat Ah!

This post does not constitute investment advice and should not be deemed to be an offer to buy or sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments.

1 comment:

  1. I would pay close attention to their inventory issues in LATAM, and the growth challenges in this fiscal