updated 4/20/2004 8:00:01 AM ET 2004-04-20T12:00:01

Shares of The Coca-Cola Co. climbed Monday to a 52-week high amid speculation that its board might be looking to tap Gillette Co. Chief Executive James Kilts to replace Doug Daft, who plans to retire as chairman and chief executive later this year.

The Atlanta-based soft-drink company's shares closed Monday at $53, up $1.07, or 2.1 percent, on the New York Stock Exchange. The day's strongest level of $53.50, was a 52-week high surpassing the prior high of $52.78 set Feb. 9.

Shares of Boston-based Gillette closed at $38.25, down $1.57, or 3.9 percent, on heavy volume on the NYSE.

Morgan Stanley analyst Bill Pecoriello, who follows both Coca-Cola and Gillette, wrote in research notes issued Monday that Coca-Cola may be within two weeks of announcing its new chairman and chief executive.

"Industry sources lead us to believe Jim Kilts is the leading candidate," said Pecoriello, who doesn't own shares of either company.

Morgan Stanley has an investment banking relationship with both Coca-Cola and Gillette.

James Williams, a Coca-Cola director on the search panel and a retired chairman and CEO of SunTrust Banks Inc., said the board is moving "as quickly" as it can to complete the search process. However, it hasn't set a deadline.

"We're dug in on finding the right person," Williams said. "We haven't identified that person yet."

Media reports have identified several candidates for the job, including Mattel Inc. Chief Executive Robert Eckert, Kellogg Co. Chief Executive Carlos Gutierrez, and R. Kerry Clark, vice chairman of The Procter & Gamble Co.

Representatives of Gillette weren't immediately available for comment. The company makes razors, batteries and dental care products.

Separately, Coca-Cola said Monday it plans to first launch its "mid-calorie" version of Coca-Cola in Japan before its U.S. rollout in the summer. "Coca-Cola C2," will have half the carbohydrates, sugar and calories of regular colas.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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