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Coca-Cola's profit declines as sales fall

Coca-Cola says its third-quarter profit declined less than 1 percent, as sales fell as consumers continued to limit soft drink purchases and the stronger dollar took a toll.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sales outside of the Coca-Cola Co.'s home turf of North America helped profit inch higher in the third quarter, although overall sales fell as the stronger dollar continued to take a toll on revenue.

Worldwide case volume of drinks like Sprite, Coke and Powerade grew 2 percent in the three-month period ending Oct. 2, including 37 percent growth in India, 15 percent in China, and 7 percent in Latin America. In North America, which makes up about one-fourth of the company's sales, case volume slipped 4 percent, marked by a 5 percent drop in soft drinks.

Coca-Cola is focusing on expanding in emerging market as it deals with a sluggish North American market, where consumers are either cutting their soft drink purchases for money or switching to healthier juices and teas.

The company recently announced a $2 billion investment, along with its bottlers, in China in the next three years.

"That's kind of the long-term beauty of this story," said Edward Jones analyst Jack Russo. "The potential of people in those markets to have more income, being better educated and having more spending ability and buying products like Coke offers."

CEO Muhtar Kent said the company will continue to focus on these new markets and hopes its major marketing push around big events next year like the Winter Olympics will help.

"I am bullish from the point of view of 2010 and us having really good concrete global program that has such an impact on consumers," he told reporters on a conference call.

Overall in the quarter, Coca-Cola earned $1.896 billion, or 81 cents per share, compared with $1.890 billion, or 81 cents per share, a year earlier.

Results in the most recent quarter included a 1-cent restructuring charge.

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola said revenue slumped to $8.04 billion from $8.39 billion. Foreign currency exchange dragged down revenue by 6 percent.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, who usually exclude one-time items from their estimates, forecast profit of 81 cents per share on revenue of $8.11 billion.

Shares of Coca-Cola fell 98 cents to $53.81 in afternoon trading.

Foreign sales come at a price, in recent quarters at least, because of the U.S. dollar, which has been strong relative to last year but is now weakening. In the quarter, foreign exchange dragged revenue down by 6 percent. A strong dollar dampens foreign sales for U.S. companies, because overseas sales convert back to fewer U.S. dollars.

But Coca-Cola said that situation, which has been going on for at least a year, has changed as the dollar weakens. The company expects foreign currency to benefit the company in the fourth quarter by low to mid-single digits.

Kent said Coca-Cola hedges for major currencies like the Japanese yen and the euro, although it has no hedging policies in place yet for emerging markets.

"We continue to manage this business doing the right things in the marketplace, not managing it according to currency," he said.