NEW YORK, October 21- Soft drinks king Coca-Cola made headway in global volume sales in its third quarter but net earnings fell sharply, hit by slower economic growth and volatile currencies.
Coke reported Tuesday a slight fall in total operating revenues around the world to $11.98 billion for the quarter to September 26. Net income however dropped 13.6 percent to $2.12 billion, and earnings per share dropped to 48 cents from 54 cents.
Excluding exceptional items, earnings per share were flat at 53 cents, matching the average forecast of analysts.
Coke said volatile foreign exchange markets and especially the strengthening of the US dollar against most other currencies took a toll on the company. If currency swings were factored out, the company said, earnings per share would be up six percent.
Still, the flat revenue showed the challenge the company faces in boosting sales and earnings in a tough global environment. It stressed the focus during the period on maintaining volume sales and market share with “a rational approach to pricing” and intensified marketing efforts.
Atlanta based Coke has been challenged especially by Europe’s economic slump, but also by slow growth in the United States and the sharp economic slowdown in Latin America and elsewhere.
Sales volumes in Europe were down five percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, and off one percent in North America. Revenues gained 0.6 percent in Europe lost while falling 2.1 percent in North America.
But Coke’s smallest region, Eurasia and Africa, showed firm growth, with volumes up 5 percent and sales up 6.0 percent.
And in Asia, which has shown the strongest growth for several years, volume grew two percent and revenues 5.3 percent.
The company has also faced slower soft drinks consumption in the United States — its leading market — as consumers turn to alternatives to super-sweet fizzy soda pops.
Driving volume growth was not so much the company’s key brand Coke, Sprite and Fanta but non-fizzy drinks like bottled tea, still water and especially energy drinks. Energy drinks volume was up seven percent.
Compared to that, fizzy drink sales volume was flat in the quarter, and up 1 percent for the first nine months of the year.
In August, Coke spent $2.15 billion for a 16.7 percent stake in Monster Beverage to cement their relationship beyond already profitable distribution services and lock Coke’s stake in the energy drinks business.
As part of the deal, Coke transferred ownership of its own less successful energy drinks, including brands NOS, Full Throttle and Burn, to Monster. And it took over Monster’s non energy brands like Hansen’s Natural Sodas, Peace Tea and Hubert’s Lemonade.