Muhtar Kent, chairman and chief executive of Coca-Cola Co., keeps a sheet of paper with him when he travels. It shows sales trends for the company's multitude of brands: Coca-Cola, Sprite, sports drinks, coffee, tea and other drinks.
"For the first time in a long time, there's no red on that sheet," Kent said Wednesday.
Coca-Cola Co. posted higher revenue and profits in the fourth quarter as it sold more beverages across the world. The company marked three straight quarters of growth in the the once-troubled North American market, as it sold more Coca-Cola, Powerade, Smartwater and Coke Zero. For the first time in years, each of Coca-Cola's big markets grew at the same time. The company posted improvement in emerging markets such as India and developed ones such as Germany.
"That is very gratifying," Kent said in an interview.
The company earned profits of $5.77 billion or $2.46 per share. Revenue rose 45 percent to $10.5 billion. On a comparable basis, the company earned 72 cents per share, an increase of 9 percent. Excluding the benefit of new cross-licensed brands, primarily from Dr Pepper Snapple, worldwide volume grew 5 percent in the fourth quarter. Volume rose 3 percent in North America, excluding those new drinks.
The company is "hitting on all cylinders," said Credit Suisse analyst Carlos Laboy.
"Executing flawlessly," said UBS analyst Kaumil Gajrawala.
The notable exception was China, where sales volume fell by 3 percent in the fourth quarter. That drop surprised analysts. Morningstar analyst Phil Gorham said he is not too concerned because Coca-Cola's brands are popular in China. Plus, some sales shifted into the first quarter because of the timing of the Chinese New Year.
"However, PepsiCo is slightly outspending Coke on infrastructure in China," Gorham said. "We shall keep an eye on the firm's medium term performance in this important growth market."
Coca-Cola executives warned quarter-by-quarter results in China can be highly volatile, but acknowledged competition has gotten tougher. Still, "we see great prospects in China," said Kent. "We can continue to win in China."
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