0

Coke's first-quarter profit jumps 14 percent

ATLANTA - The Coca-Cola Co., the world's largest beverage maker, said Tuesday its first-quarter profit jumped 14 percent on a double-digit rise in sales, despite continuing problems in its North America unit.

The results, announced before the market opened, beat Wall Street expectations.

The Atlanta-based company said it earned $1.26 billion, or 54 cents a share, for the three months ending March 30, compared to a profit of $1.11 billion, or 47 cents a share, for the same period a year ago.

Excluding one-time items, Coca-Cola said it earned $1.29 billion, or 56 cents a share, in the quarter. On that basis, analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were expecting earnings of 53 cents a share.

Revenue in the January-March period rose 17 percent to $6.10 billion.

Coca-Cola said worldwide unit-case volume grew 6 percent in the quarter, the highest growth rate since 2002.

International unit-case volume was up 9 percent, offsetting another poor performance for the company in North America, where unit-case volume declined 3 percent in the quarter.

''What you see today is a very strong quarter, delivered by a company and a system that's found its footing,'' Chief Executive Neville Isdell said in a conference call with investors. But he pledged to improve the company's performance in North America.

''We will win again in our home market,'' Isdell said. ''It will not come quickly.'' The weakness is expected to continue in the second quarter, though Coca-Cola is projecting improving results in North America in the second half of the year.

''I want to underscore my absolute focus on North America,'' Isdell said.