Coca-Cola earnings top estimates as cost cutting offsets pandemic's blow to sales

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A delivery truck driver unloads Coca-Cola Co. soft drinks in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, U.S., on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020.
Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Coca-Cola on Wednesday said that the coronavirus pandemic is still hurting its sales, but cost-cutting efforts helped it top analysts’ earnings estimates.

The company also released its first forecast since the crisis hit its business. Analysts appear to be more optimistic than the Sprite owner about the speed of its recovery.

Shares of the company rose 2% in premarket trading.

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

  • Earnings per share: 47 cents, adjusted, vs. 42 cents expected
  • Revenue: $8.6 billion vs. $8.63 billion expected

The beverage giant reported fourth-quarter net income of $1.46 billion, or 34 cents per share, down from $2.04 billion, or 47 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding restructuring charges and other items, Coke earned 47 cents per share, topping the 42 cents per share expected by analysts surveyed by Refinitiv.

Net sales dropped 5% to $8.6 billion, missing expectations of $8.63 billion. Organic revenue, which doesn’t include the impact of acquisitions, divestitures or foreign currency, fell 3% in the quarter.

Unit case volume, which strips out the impact of foreign currency, shrank by 3%. All four of its beverage segments reported volume declines.

The company said that the resurgence of the virus around the world in December and January has put pressure on demand. So far in February, global volume has declined by mid-single digits.

In 2021, Coke is expecting organic revenue growth in the high single digits and adjusted earnings growth in a range of high single digits to low double digits. Analysts’ prediction of 10.5% growth for its full-year earnings were on the higher end of the range.

The company also shared an update on its ongoing litigation with Internal Revenue Service. In November, the U.S. Tax Court said that Coke must pay the bulk of its $3.4 billion tax bill. The company said in its earnings report that it “believes that it will ultimately prevail.” Coke has calculated that its potential liability could be as much as $12 billion, in addition to increasing its underlying tax rate by 3.5%.

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