Business

Coca-Cola Beats on Earnings, Says Demand in March Hit Pre-Pandemic Levels

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  • Coca-Cola said quarterly demand was unchanged from a year earlier as North America and Western Europe take longer to recover.
  • However, global unit case volume in March returned to 2019 levels.
  • In a separate filing, Coke announced plans for a public listing of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa.
  • The company reiterated its full-year forecast of organic revenue growth in the high single digits and adjusted earnings growth in a range of high single digits to low double digits.

Coca-Cola on Monday reported that quarterly demand was unchanged from a year earlier as North America and Western Europe take longer to bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic.

However, global unit case volume in March returned to 2019 levels.

"We are encouraged by improvements in our business, especially in markets where vaccine availability is increasing and economies are opening up, and we remain confident in our full year guidance," CEO James Quincey said in a statement.

Shares of the company closed Monday up less than 1% at $54.00.

Here's what the company reported compared with what Wall Street was expecting, based on a survey of analysts by Refinitiv:

  • Earnings per share: 55 cents adjusted vs. 50 cents expected
  • Revenue: $9.02 billion vs. $8.6 billion expected

The beverage giant reported fiscal first-quarter net income of $2.25 billion, or 52 cents per share, down from $2.78 billion, or 64 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, Coke earned 55 cents per share, topping the 50 cents per share expected by analysts surveyed by Refinitiv.

Net sales rose 5% to $9.02 billion, beating expectations of $8.6 billion. Organic revenues grew 6%, while unit case volume was flat from a year earlier. Coke said demand improved every month of the quarter, driven by markets like China where uncertainty tied to the virus has fallen. 

The company's sparkling soft drinks segment, which includes its namesake soda, saw volume growth of 4% in the quarter. While the North American fountain business is still under pressure, growth in India, China and Latin America offset those declines. Higher demand in China and India also helped its nutrition, juice, dairy and plant-based beverage segment, which posted 3% volume growth.

Coke's hydration, sports, coffee and tea segment was the hardest hit, with its volume shrinking 11%. The coffee business declined 21% due to the virus impact on Costa cafes. The hydration category, which includes Dasani and Smartwater, reported volume declines of 12% as fewer consumers worldwide bought single-use water bottles. Demand for Coke's tea products fell 6%, while sports drinks like Powerade saw volume decline just 1%.

The company reiterated its full-year forecast of organic revenue growth in the high single digits and adjusted earnings growth in a range of high single digits to low double digits.

CFO John Murphy told analysts that uncertainty still remains. India and parts of Europe are responding to spikes in new Covid-19 cases with lockdowns, while Latin America and Africa are expecting slower vaccine distribution and new waves. Quincey echoed that sentiment.

"The breaking news today is that the weekly new cases of Covid has hit an all-time peak, so while vaccinations are rising in many countries — U.S., U.K., et cetera — the flip side is there's actually a new high in terms of cases," Quincey said.

He added that April has started well for Coke, but the looming risk of new lockdowns could reverse that progress.

In a separate filing, Coke announced plans for a public listing of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa. The company will sell a portion of its holdings in the initial public offering, which is expected within 18 months. Shares will be listed in Amsterdam and Johannesburg.

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