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Should investors call time on this top growth share?

Image: Fevertree: fair use

Shares in premium carbonated mixer supplier Fevertree (LSE: FEVR) dipped over 5% in early trading this morning, despite the company reporting an enviable set of final results to the market.

After more than doubling in price over the last year, has the time now come for growth investors to sell their shares and move on? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

“Another exceptional year”

On the face of it, there appears very little to complain about. 

In 2016, Fevertree’s revenue fizzed 73% to £102.2m with gross profit margins of 55.2% (compared to 51.2% in the previous year). The company recorded excellent growthacross all regions, channels and flavours” with a particularly spirited performance seen in the UK. Here, sales jumped 118% — compared to the 84% acceleration achieved in 2015 — thanks in no small part to superb trading over the festive period. Adjusted EBITDA came in above expectations at £35.8m (a 97% increase on 2015).

While dividends won’t be a priority for nearly all holders, the company also announced a final payment of 4.71p. When combined with its interim payout, this brings the total dividend to 6.25p per share — over double what it was in 2015. As many investors will testify, a rapidly growing but small yield can often be preferable to one that appears overly-generous. The former tends to be indicative of a company in rude health. The latter, on the other hand, may prove unsustainable. Ending the year with £26.9m net cash on its balance sheet, Fevertree looks about as financially sound as businesses come.

All this and the shares fall. How can this be?

As with most star performers, there’s likely to have been some profit-taking going on. That’s perfectly understandable given the company’s wonderful performance over the past couple of years. The decision of co-founder Charles Rolls to move from the position of Executive Chairman to Non-executive Chairman may also have unsettled some.

Possibly the biggest reason however, is that no earnings upgrades were announced. This, when combined with its price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 58 for 2017, leaves Fevertree’s shares looking priced to perfection. While its market-leading status and strong branding should give it some protection, I’m concerned by what may happen if and when evidence emerges that rivals — offering cheaper but otherwise similar products — are successfully drawing customers away.

Since expectations tend to be positively correlated with the likelihood of disappointment, I’m left wondering if it may be prudent to take some money off of the table. A superb company? Without doubt. A share worth holding on to in perpetuity? I’m not so sure.

Slower growth, more stability?

Those concerned by the Fevertree’s lack of earnings upgrades but still keen to tap into the relatively resilient drinks industry may wish to move their capital into FTSE 100 constituent, Diageo (LSE: DGE).

With its greater financial clout and larger portfolio of brands (including Baileys, Guinness and Captain Morgan), the £58bn cap is clearly the more defensive choice. Its huge international presence may also be of some comfort to investors concerned by what the triggering of Article 50 could mean for businesses — like Fevertree — that derive the majority of their sales from the UK.

With a P/E of 22 for 2017 and a decently-covered 2.7% yield, those concerned by Fevertree’s vertigo-inducing valuation may find Diageo a more satisfying tipple.

Room to grow

Time will tell whether Fevertree can continue its almost relentless ascent and keep investors happy.

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Paul Summers has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Diageo. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.