Tuesday, April 23, 2019 | 9:12 a.m.
ATLANTA — The Coca-Cola Co. surprised investors with a better-than-expected first quarter but cautioned that it's still expecting slower growth for the full year.
Atlanta-based Coke reported net income of $1.7 billion, or 39 cents per share, up from 32 cents per share in the January-March period a year ago.
Without one-time items, Coke earned 48 cents per share, beating Wall Street's expectations. Analysts forecast earnings of 46 cents per share. Revenue grew 5% to $8.02 billion, also topping analysts' expectations.
Unit case volume — the number of cases of Coke beverages sold to customers — grew 2%, helped by strong sales in Southeast Asia and Europe. Volume dropped 1% in North America, but CEO James Quincey said that was partly due to rising sales of mini cans, which jumped 14% in the quarter.
Revenue growth was aided by a buildup of inventory by bottlers ahead of Brexit. That pull-ahead will be a drag on earnings in the fourth quarter, the company said.
In February, Coke triggered its worst sell-off in more than a decade after it forecast slower-than-expected revenue growth this year because of currency fluctuations and bumpy conditions in emerging markets.
That hasn't changed; Coke still expects organic revenue growth of 4% this year, which is a percentage point slower than in 2018. It also expects per-share earnings growth between 1% and negative 1%.
Quincey said uncertainty about trade and volatility in Argentina, the Middle East and other markets continue to be a concern.
"The macro environment remains on a lower level of growth than it did in 2018," he said. "Depending on the week it can blow more optimistic or more pessimistic."
In the first quarter, Coke commanded better pricing, particularly in Europe and Latin America. It also saw 6% growth in sales of water and sports drinks. Soft drink sales were up 1%, while juice, tea and coffee sales were flat from the prior year.
During the quarter, the company completed its $4.9 billion acquisition of U.K. coffee brand Costa Limited. Coke said it plans to introduce Costa ready-to-drink coffee beverages in the second quarter and will launch Coke Coffee — an afternoon energy drink — in 25 markets before the end of the year.
Coke shares rose 1.5% to $48.16 in midday trading.
Coke's earnings come nearly a week after rival PepsiCo.'s shares hit an all-time high. Pepsi's first quarter net income rose 5% to $1.4 billion, largely due to strong growth of its Frito-Lay snack division.