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Coca-Cola's lower profit meets Street view

By Martinne Geller
/ Source: Reuters

By Martinne Geller

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Coca-Cola Co reported a lower quarterly profit on Tuesday that met Wall Street estimates as the weak global economy led to slower international sales growth.

Coke, which gets the bulk of its sales from abroad, said international sales by volume rose 3 percent, which is lower than last year's growth rates which were in the 5 percent to 7 percent range.

Volume fell 2 percent in North America, and rose 2 percent worldwide.

Shares of the world's largest soft drink maker were down 0.9 percent after falling in premarket trade, when the broader market was also indicated downward.

"I don't think it's overly specifically tied to Coke," Gary Bradshaw, a portfolio manager with Hodges Capital Management, said about the market. "But Coke didn't have a whole lot to add to good news out there ... When I think about the weak U.S. economy and the weak global economy, to grow case volume 2 percent, it's not great, but OK."

Coke said net income was $1.35 billion, or 58 cents per share, in the first quarter ended on April 3, down from $1.5 billion, or 64 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, Coke earned 65 cents per share, meeting analysts' average forecast, according to Reuters Estimates.

Operating revenue fell 2.8 percent to $7.17 billion.

International sales were driven by 31 percent volume growth in India and 10 percent growth in China. Volume fell 2 percent in Central and Eastern Europe.

The strength of the U.S. dollar versus foreign currencies hurt operating revenue by 10 percentage points and operating income by 17 percentage points.

Coke forecast currency fluctuations to hurt operating income by 14 to 16 percentage points in the second quarter.

Coke's results came a day after archrival PepsiCo Inc reported a higher-than-expected profit despite a 6 percent volume decline in its domestic soft drink business.

Pepsi also announced an unsolicited takeover bid for its two largest bottlers Pepsi Bottling Group Inc and PepsiAmericas Inc , which resurrected speculation that Coke might take over Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc , its largest bottler.

But Coke has repeatedly said it had no intention of doing so, and did not mention it in its earnings release.

Atlanta-based Coke does not provide specific earnings forecasts, but has said it was looking to meet its long-term target of 3 percent to 4 percent volume growth and high single-digit earnings-per-share growth this year.

Coca-Cola shares were down 42 cents at $43.91 after rising to $44.95 in early morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Derek Caney, Dave Zimmerman)