NEW YORK Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) posted a better-than-expected quarterly profit on Thursday, as double-digit volume gains in China, India and Eastern Europe offset a decline in North America, and shares rose 6 percent.
More than three-quarters of Coke's sales volume comes from abroad, a statistic analysts have often pointed to when trying to predict whether the world's top soft drink maker, or its rival PepsiCo Inc (PEP.N), would outperform in the recession.
Coke said global sales by volume rose 4 percent. JPMorgan analyst John Faucher called that "kind of remarkable" since eight large beverage and household product makers have reported results so far, and Coke is only the second to see a quarterly gain, after Colgate-Palmolive Co (CL.N).
Rival PepsiCo Inc (PEP.N), which gets a much greater share of revenue from North America, will report results on Friday.
"Volume was better than I expected it would be and the earnings were better," said Steve Dixon, portfolio manager of the Global Beverage Fund at New York-based Arnhold & S. Bleichroeder. Dixon's fund holds shares in Coke and Pepsi.
"What really (stood) out to me was the consistency of the results across geographies and product lines, of course with the exception being North America," he said.
Coke said net income fell to $995 million, or 43 cents per share, in its fourth quarter, from $1.21 billion, or 52 cents per share, a year ago.
Excluding items profit was 64 cents per share, versus 61 cents forecast by Wall Street, according to Reuters Estimates.
Revenue fell 2.7 percent to $7.13 billion, hurt by recent divestitures of some bottlers and the strengthening U.S. dollar, which depresses the value of overseas sales.
Coke said a stronger dollar reduced quarterly operating income 9 percent and forecast a hit of 10 to 12 percent for the current first quarter. It did not estimate the full-year impact, saying volatility made it "impossible to forecast."
"Pepsi will have less of a currency headwind," said Dixon. "And because of its mix of business I expect that Pepsi, looking forward into 2009, would have a better benefit from lower commodity input costs."
Pepsi also owns the Frito-Lay snack business, which got squeezed last year as costs for corn and cooking oils spiked. Dixon said it should get more of a boost now they've receded.
Excluding the impact of currency, Coke's long-term performance targets call for operating income to increase 6 percent to 8 percent, and earnings per share to grow at a high single-digit rate.
"Our picture of success for 2009 is to achieve those targets, as well as enhancing brand health and gaining share, despite the difficult operating environment," Chief Financial Officer Gary Fayard said on a conference call.
Coke's U.S. sales have been hurt as high gas prices kept many people away from gas stations and convenience stores and the recession leads people to cut back on dining out.
Yet Coke Chief Executive Muhtar Kent told reporters that lower gas prices have helped sales recover, at least at restaurant drive-throughs.
"In terms of the food service business, I think we're seeing a little bit of improvement, but it's really too early to say whether it's sustainable or not," Kent said.
Volume of carbonated soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite rose 2 percent. Other beverages such as juice, bottled tea and water rose 11 percent.
Volume rose 6 percent in Latin America, 2 percent in Europe, 9 percent in the Pacific region and 7 percent in the Eurasia and Africa segment. Volume fell 3 percent in North America.
The company said it was on track to deliver $500 million in annualized savings from productivity improvements by the end of 2011. It said Coca-Cola Supply, a new company it formed with its largest bottler Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc CCE.N should save it another $150 million.
Coke shares rose $2.45, or 5.9 percent, to $43.72 in afternoon New York Stock Exchange trading.
(Editing by Maureen Bavdek and Gunna Dickson)