The Coca-Cola Company (KO – Free Coca-Cola Stock Report) started 2019 in solid fashion. The beverage giant's March-quarter results showed revenues rising 5% year over year, to $8.0 billion. This growth included a 6% advance in organic revenues, as currency headwinds and contributions from acquisitions and other structural changes in the business largely offset each other. Top-line highlights include continued double-digit growth in Coke Zero Sugar, which is helping to keep volumes in the flagship Coke brand on the rise.
Meanwhile, earnings overcame an 11% currency headwind to advance 4%, to $0.48 a share, beating our estimate by $0.02. The outperformance, though, was largely related to timing related benefits, particularly a bottler inventory build driven by concerns about Brexit. This activity, which was most notable in European operations, contributed about 2% to organic growth, while adding roughly $0.02 a share to the bottom line.
From a regional perspective, the Europe, Middle East & Africa segment made the most notable strides. Favorable pricing and mix changes drove a 14% advance in organic revenues, while comparable currency neutral operating income was up 22%. The performance was aided by the aforementioned Brexit-related factors, though revenue management initiatives and innovation in the Zero Sugar space also bolstered results. Elsewhere, North American operations showed signs of progress. Organic revenues advanced just 1%, partly reflecting the timing of Easter and other calendar-related headwinds, but ongoing productivity initiatives and the timing of expenses helped to support a 9% increase in comparable currency neutral operating income.
Investors gave Coke's March-quarter results generally favorable marks, bidding the stock price up modestly on the news. This equity, though, still has a ways to go to recover from the sell-off that followed the release of December-quarter earnings. In that instance, the market seemed particularly disappointed with management's 2019 outlook, and the company's latest results brought no significant changes to its full-year guidance, which calls for earnings to finish roughly flat with 2018's final tally of $2.08 a share. Too, management continues to look for 4% growth in organic revenues, while comparable currency neutral operating income should rise 10%-11%. These gains, though, figure to be largely offset by foreign currency headwinds, increased interest expenses and a slightly higher tax rate.
Overall, Coke stock continues to be best suited for conservative investors. Granted, total return potential to 2022-2024 is unexciting. However, this equity did hold up nicely during the December-quarter sell-off in the broader market, and it still carries our Highest rank (1) for Safety, while also offering a dividend yield that is comfortably above the Value Line median.
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.