ATLANTA — The Coca-Cola Co. reported Wednesday a 79 percent jump in fourth-quarter profit and maintained its growth targets despite a slowing U.S. economy, but has no plans to be more aggressive with its stock buybacks.
The results posted by the world's largest beverage maker beat Wall Street expectations, but company shares slipped.
The Atlanta-based company said it earned $1.21 billion, or 52 cents a share, for the three months ending Dec. 31, compared to a profit of $678 million, or 29 cents a share, a year earlier, when the company took a big impairment charge at its largest bottler.
Excluding one-time items, Coca-Cola said it earned $1.36 billion, or 58 cents a share, in the quarter, ahead of the 55 cents a share analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were expecting.
Revenue in the quarter rose 24 percent to $7.33 billion, compared to $5.93 billion recorded a year earlier.
Looking ahead, Coca-Cola executives said the company is mindful of the slowing U.S. economy.
Chief Financial Officer Gary Fayard said the company is confident about its overall volume and growth targets. But, he said Coca-Cola only plans to buy back $1 billion to $2 billion in company stock in 2008, about the same amount as in 2007.
Fayard said the company wants to be conservative because of uncertainty in the credit markets.
Chief Executive Neville Isdell told analysts during a conference call that the fourth quarter was "a very positive finish to 2007" that "capped an excellent year for The Coca-Cola Co."
He said the company is doing well based on its growth goals.
"We realize the journey is long, and we are by no means declaring victory," Isdell said, adding that Coca-Cola will respond to future "opportunities and challenges."
Worldwide unit case volume was up 5 percent in the fourth quarter and 6 percent for all of 2007.
Growth in several international markets was strong in the fourth quarter. Unit case volume in Coca-Cola's Africa group increased 7 percent in the quarter. It increased 18 percent in the quarter in India and 10 percent in Latin America.
However, unit case volume in the company's key North America unit increased only 1 percent in the quarter. Unit case volume in the company's European Union group increased 2 percent in the quarter. That group's results for the fourth quarter were weighed down by a volume decline in Germany.
President and Chief Operating Officer Muhtar Kent said Coca-Cola remains committed to creating strong, consistent growth in its home market, though he acknowledged that "international operations continue to be the primary driver of growth for the company."
Kent has been named to succeed Isdell as CEO on July 1. Isdell remains as chairman until Coke's annual meeting in April 2009.
For all of 2007, Coca-Cola said it earned $5.98 billion, or $2.57 a share, compared to a profit of $5.08 billion, or $2.16 a share, for all of 2006. Full-year revenue rose 20 percent to $28.86 billion, compared to $24.09 billion recorded in 2006.
Coca-Cola completed its $4.1 billion purchase of Vitaminwater maker Glaceau last June. Kent said Wednesday that Glaceau will be moving beyond the U.S. market. "You will certainly see Glaceau in international markets in the very near future," Kent said.
Coca-Cola shares fell 53 cents to $59.39 in Wednesday trading.
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The Coca-Cola Co.: http://www.coca-cola.com