Monster shares slide as Coke readies energy drinks

(Reuters) - Monster Beverage Corp's MNST.O shares sank 14 percent on Thursday after the company said its top shareholder Coca-Cola Co KO.N was developing two energy drinks that could compete with its brand in the coming months.

Monster, whose black-and-green cans are common sight in the hands of skateboarders, motor-cyclists and Formula 1 drivers, is currently in arbitration with Coke, the company said on Wednesday.

Coke confirmed to Reuters that it was developing two energy drinks and that it had filed for arbitration with Monster.

Coke’s new products may violate an agreement between the companies that restricts Coca-Cola from making rival energy drinks, Monster Beverage Chief Executive Officer Rodney Sacks said.

“We value our relationship with Monster. As in any commercial relationship, we will abide by our contractual obligations,” Coca-Cola said in an emailed statement.

Coke also said “Coca-Cola Energy” would be planned to have caffeine from naturally-derived sources and guarana extract. “It would be developed as a preferred option for people who want these types of ingredients in an energy drink,” the company said.

Any competition with the world’s biggest beverage company was a major risk for Monster, Wall Street analysts said after Monster revealed Coke’s plans during a conference call with analysts after reporting third-quarter results on Wednesday.

“This reflects the outsize bargaining power Coca-Cola has over Monster,” Morningstar analyst Sofia Vora said in a report. “Monster’s ability to secure shelf space and distribution is contingent on its relationships within Coca-Cola’s vast bottling network.”

Coke’s possible new energy drinks would raise uncertainty around Monster’s business, Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog said.

Any competition could also mean that Coke — which has a history of building ownership stakes in smaller companies before eventually buying them out — was unlikely to acquire the rest of Monster, she added.

Coke, which has a distribution agreement with Monster in markets including India, has been looking to diversify into health, sports drinks and even coffee, as customers continue to ditch its sugary sodas.

Coke had indicated that it pushed the proposed launch of its energy drinks until April, Sacks said.

Monster shares were last down 10 percent at $50.19 in trading before the opening bell on Thursday.

The company declined to comment further on the impact on its business from any competition with Coca-Cola, but said its current ties with Coke, which owns some 19 percent of Monster, would not be materially affected.

Reporting by Uday Sampath and Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar