Source AP ©

Coca-Cola quarter profit jumps in sales

The world's largest beverage maker, Coca-Cola, claimed 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 (930 million EUR), 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 (950 million EUR), 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 (4.5 billion EUR).

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.

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

Chief Operating Officer Muhtar Kent told investors that he believes Coca-Cola's overall performance is moving in the right direction. The company saw sales gains in several international markets, including China, Russia, South Africa, Nigeria and Japan.

Shares of Coca-Cola were up 98 cents to $51.25 in early trading Tuesday.