Coca-Cola Rises as Sales Inch Back, Guidance Reinstated

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Coca-Cola Co.’s sales beat Wall Street’s expectations in the fourth quarter, giving the soda maker a boost after nearly a year of global lockdowns at restaurants, amusement parks and stadiums that have disrupted its business.

Organic sales fell 3% in the quarter ended Dec. 31 amid ongoing challenges from the coronavirus pandemic, slightly better than the 3.4% drop analysts surveyed by Consensus Metrix had been expecting. Global unit case volume fell 3%, a percentage point better than in the previous period, the Atlanta-based company said Wednesday in a statement.

Since the challenging second quarter of 2020, when the public venues that make up about half of its sales temporarily closed in much of the world, the company has “seen sequential improvement,” Chief Financial Officer John Murphy said in an interview. “We’re pretty much on top of the trends overall. As the vaccine rolls out, I think we’ll see mobility increase.”

The shares rose 1.4% at 9:35 a.m. in New York. They fell less than 1% in 2020, trailing a gain in the broader market.

2021 Outlook

As more of the world’s population gets vaccinated and it becomes easier to predict the future, the company has reinstated guidance. It sees organic revenue growth in the high-single digits in 2021. Still, it’s not out of the woods yet: A resurgence of the virus in December and early 2021 is still pressuring sales. Through early February, the soda maker has experienced a volume decline in the mid-single digits globally, it said.

Coca-Cola -- which announced in late August that it would offer buyout packages to almost 40% of its North American workforce, followed by a round of involuntary layoffs -- said its new organizational structure has resulted in an approximately 11% net reduction in roles. He didn’t say whether the company plans further cost reductions. “The most important thing is to stay agile and flexible and be ready to move as the market demands. But also be ready to invest in markets as they need,” he said.

To become more nimble, the company has been cutting the number of products it sells, with a goal of offering about 200 master brands, a 50% reduction from 2020 levels. That focus on core brands helped Trademark Coca-Cola volume grow 1% in the quarter, led by Coca-Cola Zero Sugar with volume growth of 3%.

Competitor PepsiCo Inc., which unlike Coke is buttressed by a retail food business, is scheduled to release fourth-quarter earnings Thursday.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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