Coca-Cola Earnings Call Insights: Business Momentum, Positive Pricing Mix

On Tuesday, Coca-Cola Co (NYSE:KO) reported its third quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call. Take a look.

Business Momentum

Bill Pecoriello – Consumer Edge Research: Gary, you talked about the double-digit operating profit growth expected for Q4 versus the 4% year-to-date, I think it’s something like 14% you need to hit the 6% lower end of the long-term range for the full year. I know you have the two extra days in the fourth quarter. You mentioned commodities were easing. Anything else about the timing of expenses in the fourth quarter versus year-to-date, as well as what you are lapping in the fourth quarter that will explain the strength? Last year’s fourth quarter was strange at some of the timing differences related to the CCE transaction. So I don’t know if that’s also coming into play in the lap there?

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Muhtar Kent – Chairman and CEO: Bill, this is Muhtar. Let me just address few of the things in your question and then Gary will add some more commentary. First, I want to just ensure and stress that our business momentum continues in the midst of ongoing global economic challenges. Our system is very well aligned and on track to achieve our 2020 Vision and the appetite for investment by our marketing partners is strong as it has ever been and consumer’s love for our brands is stronger than ever and as such, we do remain confident in our ability to meet our long-term targets while also delivering our sustainable, profitable growth and value for our shareowners. With respect and so – as (indiscernible) said, with respect to your question on the fourth quarter – as Gary said, based on what we know today, we feel very confident that we can dock our ship for 2012 in line with our long-term growth targets for both top line and bottom in terms of operating profit. And so, as Gary mentioned, that will imply having a double-digit growth in operating income for the fourth quarter. We feel confident that that can be achieved based on what we know and based on current trends. And that is a host of reasons cycling of marketing expenses; as you saw total marketing for the Company was up quite significantly in the fourth quarter. We had spent related to – a one-time spend related to the Olympics to the UEFA Cup, spending on our brands in a healthy way, and I think it is important to note that you can find many companies today around the world – in the United States, around the world; that can generate their profit line from no growth in top line that is not sustainable. We feel very confident that we’re doing the right thing for our business, rising for our brands, and we will dock our ship in 2012, yet again in line with our long-term growth target despite having a – facing significant commodity headwinds in both 2011 and cycling also on top of that headwinds in 2012, investing in our brands, growing our top line, and also earning our price/mix. So, I’d like to just emphasize that pass it over to Gary.

Gary P. Fayard – EVP and CFO: Bill, a couple of things. As you mentioned, the two extra days helped significantly, both particularly in the finished products business; so both in North America and in BIG, and we saw the opposite impact of the one less day in the first quarter. So the two extra days helps significantly. There are quite a bit of cycling things, and you see a lot of that cycling in the third quarter which made the third quarter so complex and that’s why we try to give a lot of extra guidance at the end of the second quarter because of the third, but a lot of that is what we’ve been saying all year, particularly about the North America business; how we would expect to see sequential improvement in the North America business, remember, just it went from minus 9 to even now to plus 3 and you’ll continue to see improvement in North America. The easing of commodities is obviously is helping some, although a lot of that commodity now has come through – the easing has come through into the standard cost; but that’s helping. And currency will help as well. In that the headwinds of currency from the minus 7 in the third quarter to lower in the fourth quarter, not just on the translation of the results, but the transactional impact particularly inside of BIG where that currency own the cost of their commodities and their cost of goods, we do not pull out our currency neutral calculation. So, the impact of currency does hurt BIG results and so that will improve as well in the fourth quarter. So, I think everything we’re seeing; the brands are healthy, we’ve taken price, pricing across the world. We’ve seen much better elasticities than what we’ve ever had historically, which has given us a lot of optimism as well.

Positive Pricing Mix

Judy Hong – Goldman Sachs: Just in terms of North America, so it’s nice to see the profitability inflect positively in the quarter. If you could just maybe talk about, as you look out 2013 your ability to sort of sustain kind of positive pricing mix and also just color as it relates to some of the commentary on channel mix that you’ve alluded to in the last quarter where you continue to see that pressure in terms of shift towards take-home versus immediate consumption and how that’s kind of playing out so far?

Muhtar Kent – Chairman and CEO: Let me address some of those. I am very pleased with the performance of our U.S. business. I think in terms of – we’ve increased total beverage volume and value share in this past quarter once again driven by the 2% overall volume growth led by 7% growth in still beverages, while – and also maintaining sparkling volume on a year-to-date basis and this is again 10th quarter in a row of volume growth in our North America business and I think we continue to build our occasion-based price pack channel strategy that provides increased consumer choice along with preferred packages, preferred price points which is very important in this economic environment. We see also some more positive trends in the channel mix compared to last quarter. I think the overall convenience retail channel in the third quarter was stronger, industry grew almost – certainly above 4% almost 5% and we have not only taken significant pricing – 3% price/mix again in the quarter and maintained it for the full year, but also we are focused very much on transactions getting pricing, maintaining share and growing transactions in the United States that’s the model, that’s working and specifically we’ve got a great package in the 12.5 ounce which is retailing for under $1 in that channel, for example. Then also we continue to expand in our food service channel with our innovative free style we will pass for the first time this year, the 10,000 mark in terms of dispensers deployed in this coming quarter, in the quarter that we’re in the fourth quarter. The average incidence lift there is more than 6%, the volume lift is significant as well as revenue lift for the customer. So, that’s another very important point of reference in our business in the United States. Again, our growth is led by strong performance with Coke Zero, up almost double-digits in this past quarter, coming back very strongly, strong performance across multiple categories, such as POWERADE continuing, Gold Peak growing strong double-digits, fees growing, Smartwater, Glaceau, Minute Maid, all growing in a very significant manner. So, we feel confident that our North America strategies are working, we are focused on execution. We can always improve and strive for more, we always do and we are optimistic about our outlook despite the challenging, competitive and macroeconomic backdrop. But important channels, we see better light coming through in some of the really important critical channels in the third quarter. I hope that’s helpful.

Gary P. Fayard – EVP and CFO: Judy, it is Gary. On Europe, the rest of your question on 2013, we are going through business plans now and on the year end call, we’ll give you an outlook on what we see both for North America and rest of world as well as because that will obviously encompass things like commodities, currencies, et cetera, so we’ll go through that at the end of the year, but we can’t do it today.

Muhtar Kent – Chairman and CEO: And again just to close the question, we feel confident about sequential improvement in this year and the fourth quarter in the U.S. business in terms of results, and again, we feel that the strategies that we’ve deployed are working in the United States. We have invested our total marketing again in the United States in the quarter – in this past quarter – is up, and also I would say to you that we feel that specifically also that the packaging strategies are working really well for us.

A Closer Look: Coca Cola Earnings Cheat Sheet>>