Coca-Cola posts sparkling quarter, warns of rocky recovery as COVID-19 cases surge

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Bottles of Coca-Cola are displayed at a supermarket of Swiss retailer Denner, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Glattbrugg, Switzerland June 26, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
  • Q1 revenue, volume rise after 4 qtrs of fall
  • Trademark Coca-Cola, juices in demand
  • CEO warns new lockdowns could pressure business

April 19 (Reuters) - Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) thumped estimates for quarterly results on Monday as sales in Asia picked up following the reopening of stores and restaurants, but the beverage maker warned of a rocky road ahead due to growing COVID-19 cases in some markets.

The beverage maker said volumes, a key demand indicator, returned to 2019 levels in March as accelerated vaccinations paved the way for the reopening of economies.

Shares of the Atlanta-based company rose about 1% in morning trading.

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"Whilst we've got back above the line of flotation in March, there's no guarantee there won't be some extra degree of lockdowns in May or September or December that then puts pressure back on the business," Chief Executive Officer James Quincey told analysts.

In the past few weeks, Latin America and Africa have slowed down vaccine distribution and India, one of the best performing regions in the first quarter, is seeing a surge in cases and has put in place localized lockdowns.

"The reality is that there are more cases now than there were a while ago. We still feel very confident... but there's a lot of managing left to do," Quincey said.

Net revenue rose about 5% to $9.02 billion for the quarter ended April 2 - the first increase after four quarters of declines - beating the average analyst estimate of $8.63 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

On an adjusted basis, Coca-Cola earned 55 cents per share, 5 cents more than estimates.

Coca-Cola is now seeking a place in more pantries through single-serve multipacks, smaller packaging, refills and returnable glass bottles.

"There's been a lot of underlying progress and Coke's brand is definitely strong enough to carry the group to a recovery," Hargreaves Lansdow William Ryder said.

Coca-Cola also separately announced plans to list its African bottling operations, Coca-Cola Beverages Africa (CCBA), as a publicly traded company. As part of the IPO, Coca-Cola will sell a portion of its 66.5% stake in CCBA.

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Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila

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