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We have maintained a Neutral recommendation on Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. (DPS - Analyst Report) following appraisal of third quarter 2012 results.

Dr Pepper Snapple’s third quarter 2012 adjusted earnings of 79 cents per share increased 7.0% year over year as flat sales growth was partially offset by decent margins. The company’s quarterly earnings also surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 77 cents per share.

During the quarter, Dr Pepper's net sales were flat (both including and excluding currency impact) year over year at $1.528 billion as gains from pricing were offset by volume declines and unfavorable segment mix. Net sales slightly missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1.568 billion. Overall, sales were down from second quarter levels. Dr Pepper maintained its full year 2012 earnings guidance, while it trimmed the sales outlook.

Overall, we are encouraged by Dr Pepper’s strong position in the flavored carbonated soft drinks (CSD) market. Dr Pepper owns some of the most popular CSD and non carbonated beverages (NCB) brands. The company holds the #1 position in the flavored non-cola CSD market in the U.S. with a market share of 40% in 2011. Dr Pepper soft drink, the most popular CSD brand, holds the #2 position in the flavored CSD market in the U.S. The company’s portfolio of well-established flagship brands offers a strong competitive advantage and strengthens its position in the market. Further, the company makes regular marketing investments to build brand value. Over the last three years, the company has made over $100 million of marketing investment in popular brands.

In 2010, Dr Pepper launched its Rapid Continuous Improvement (RCI) program under which the company is working to free up critical resources, people, time and money so that these can be used to build brand value. Therefore, the company has been able to reduce inventory and storage costs and improve cash flows, which can in turn be returned to shareholders via dividends and share repurchases. Dr Pepper anticipates that the program will lead to productivity savings of at least $150 million through 2013.

Though the commodity cost pressures have subsided, of late, the company’s weak volume growth and lack of exposure outside U.S. keep us on the sidelines. Further, changing consumer preferences toward healthier drinks, as a result of heightened awareness, are affecting the company’s CSD volumes. Moreover, the company mainly operates its business in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, which are experiencing saturation. It thus lacks exposure in the fast growing emerging markets where demand is growing and health consciousness is comparatively less. This is a significant competitive disadvantage for Dr Pepper versus its peers like The Coca Cola Company (KO - Analyst Report) and PepsiCo, Inc. (PEP - Analyst Report), which have significant exposure overseas.

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