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Coca-Cola Tops Profit, Sales Estimates, Helped By Emerging Markets

Coca-Cola bottles are displayed at a market.
Jeff Chiu
Coca-Cola bottles are displayed at a market.

Soft drinks company Coca-Cola the world's largest beverage company, on Tuesday reported higher quarterly profit that beat Wall Street estimates as strength in emerging markets such as China and Russia overshadowed weakness in North America.

Net income for the first quarter ended March 30 rose 14% to $1.26 billion, or 54 cents a share, from $1.11 billion, or 47 cents a share, a year earlier.

Excluding items including a charge from an asset write-off in a Philippines bottler and gains on the sales of an equity interest in a Brazilian bottler, the company earned 56 cents a share.

Analysts on average were expecting 53 cents a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Coca-Cola, like rival PepsiCo, has seen a slowdown in sales in mature markets such as North America as increasingly health-conscious consumers opt for bottled water or tea.

Coke's North American sales were flat last year, while sales in Eurasia grew in the double-digits.

Net operating revenue rose 17% to $6.10 billion as worldwide unit case volume, a key metric in the beverage industry, grew 6%, helped by strength in Latin America, China, Eastern Europe, South Africa, Nigeria, and Russia.

Revenue gains were helped by a 6% increase in sales of soft drink concentrate, a 5% increase related to acquisitions of certain bottlers, a 3% benefit from pricing and product mix, and a 3% benefit from currency fluctuations.

Case volume was down 3% in North America, but revenue in the segment, which made up about 28% of the company's total, rose 2%, as Atlanta-based Coke raised prices and sold a greater number of more-expensive energy and sports drinks.

Volume was up 17% in Africa, 7% in Latin America, 11% in the European Union, and 5% in the Pacific region.

The quarter's results were driven by strength of noncarbonated beverages such as Dasani bottled water, whose sales rose 21%, Powerade sports drink, which rose 7%, and Minute Maid juice, which rose in the double-digit range.

By contrast sales of carbonated soft drinks only rose 5%, helped by strength of Sprite and Fanta.

Coke shares have been trading in their highest range since July 2004 in recent weeks. Before Tuesday, the the stock traded at more than 19-times estimated 2007 earnings, making it the second-priciest stock in the Dow Jones Industrial Average on a price to earnings basis, though its multiple is only slightly higher than that of rival PepsiCo.

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