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Beverage giant Coca-Cola (KO - Free Coca-Cola Stock Report) got off to a solid start in 2013. Revenues slipped 1%, but earnings edged higher, to $0.46 a share, a penny ahead of the prior-year period. Currency effects were a headwind, trimming sales and operating income by 2% and 3%, respectively, and this figures to be a challenge over the balance of the year, as well. Otherwise, comparable operating profits, excluding currency, were up 5%, despite two fewer selling days in the quarter. And, earnings comparisons should improve over the balance of 2013, with full-year share net finishing at $2.15, up nearly 10% from 2012's tally of $1.97. 

Volume trends were relatively healthy in the first three months of 2013, advancing 4% year-over-year, as the beverage giant again increased its share (on a value basis) of the nonalcoholic ready-to-drink market. Strong gains in emerging markets, such as Thailand (up 18%), India (up 8%), and Russia (up 8%), continued to lead the way. China was fairly sluggish, reflecting slowing economic growth and bad weather, though the 1% advance there actually represents an encouraging improvement in trend from the closing months of 2012. Meanwhile, most developed markets, including North America and Japan, generated modest growth, though Europe as a whole was flat, with weakness in the economically challenged markets in the south offsetting stronger results elsewhere on the Continent, including Germany.  

KO stock has been a strong performer so far in 2013, and the release of March-quarter results sparked added support for this equity, which rose about 5% in price, to surpass $42 a share for the first time (on a split-adjusted basis) in many years. The 17% advance year to date diminishes long-term appreciation potential a bit, though this stock is still a worthwhile selection for conservative investors seeking healthy, risk-adjusted total returns to 2016-2018. Earlier this year, the company raised its quarterly dividend by 10%, to $0.28 a share, which represents a yield of better than 2.5%. The payout should increase going forward, as well, roughly in line with the high-single-digit earnings growth rate we envision over the next 3 to 5 years. Meanwhile, Coke's impressive cash flow should allow it to remain active buying back stock, with plans to spend upwards of $3.5 billion on share repurchases this year alone.

About the Company:The Coca-Cola Company is the world's leading marketer of ready-to-serve, nonalcoholic beverages. On any given day, 1.7 billion individual servings of the company's brands are consumed by people around the globe. The Atlanta-based company currently has more than 500 wholly owned and licensed brands, including 15 that generate $1 billion or more in annual sales.

At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.