Coca-Cola earnings: US sales continue rebound

Coca-Cola sales in North America increased for the second quarter in a row after four years of declines.

Michael Pugh/Coca-Cola Co./AP
Coca-Cola Company Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent accepts a first case of the signature beverage produced by the new Coca-Cola Refreshments, Inc. at a special employees meeting Oct. 5 in Dunwoody, Ga. The company's earnings rose 8.4 percent.

U.S. sales for Coca-Cola Co. extended their rebound in the third-quarter, coupling with strong performance abroad to push the world's largest soft drink maker's net income up 8.4 percent.

The second consecutive quarter of improvements in its North American drinks business is encouraging news for Coca-Cola after four years of declines. The company also raised the value of shares it expects to buy back this year to $2 billion from $1.5 billion.

The company, based in Atlanta, said Tuesday it earned $2.06 billion or 88 cents per share in the three months ending Oct. 1, up from $1.9 billion or 81 cents per share last year. Excluding one-time items related to restructuring, the company earned 92 cents per share.

Revenue rose 4.7 percent to $8.43 billion.

Analysts expected the company to earn 89 cents per share on revenue of $8.3 billion in the quarter, according to Thomson Reuters. Their estimates typically exclude one-time items.

In heavy trading, shares set a new 52-week high of $60.47. The stock closed up 34 cents to $60.34.

Beverage volume in North America rose 2 percent. Worldwide, the figure rose 5 percent.

The soft drink industry has been hurting in the U.S. and other developed countries as shoppers limit their purchases in the weak economy. Shoppers are also turning to juices and teas for health reasons.

The company saw no gains in the amount of soft drinks it sold in North America, but it also saw no declines. Coca-Cola Zero posted double-digit volume growth, and Sprite and Fanta were also top performers.

Sales of juices and teas rose again, as the Atlanta-based company sold 8 percent more in the quarter. Powerade's sales volume rose 32 percent and Simply juices rose 23 percent.

The company has been working for several years to improve its North American business, CEO Muhtar Kent told investors on a conference call.

"In no way are we declaring victory," he said. "We're in the process of stabilizing."

The improvements in North America are good for Coca-Cola, but about three-quarters of its revenue comes from abroad, and that's where the company is focusing, particularly in emerging markets such as China and Brazil.

Edward Jones research analyst Jack Russo said the company is performing better than competitors because it has known for years its sales were shifting overseas.

"They've gone in sooner, and I think they've just developed their brand strengths further along than some of these other companies," he said.

Coca-Cola has been investing to expand its presence in emerging markets to hook shoppers as they earn more money to spend on discretionary purchases, such as soft drinks. Again, those emerging markets were among the company's fastest-growing. China's volume grew 12 percent in the quarter, while Brazil's volume grew 13 percent and Russia's grew 30 percent.

.Volume in Europe was flat, although France, the Nordic region and Great Britain, among other regions, showed gains. Eurasia and Africa and the Pacific's volume grew at least 11 percent.

Latin American volume grew 4 percent, on top of a 7 percent jump last year in the quarter.

The Coca-Cola brand's volume rose 4 percent around the world, making it the fastest-growing among the company's brands globally.

Coca-Cola said its integration of the North American operations of bottler Coca-Cola Enterprises is on track and the company expects to save at least $350 million per year, phased in over the next four years. The company bought the operations earlier this year so it could better control distribution and be quicker to market with products - both key as the company keeps up with people's changing tastes. The deal closed earlier this month. Rival PepsicCo Inc. has made similar moves.

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