Coke Looks Abroad for Results as North America Slows

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When Coca-Cola (KO) reports earnings tomorrow morning, investors will get a sense for whether consumers in India and China were able to help offset the company's slowdown in sales in the U.S., Europe and Japan. The world's largest beverage maker derives about 80% of its sales from its international operations and has clearly set its sights on expanding economies that are growing at a faster pace than developed countries.Judy Hong, an analyst at Goldman Sachs, expects declines in sales volume in Western Europe and Japan and beverage sales to be flat in North America. At the same time, she expects emerging market volume growth to be driven by a 25% increase in India, 12% in China and 5% in Brazil.

This will follow a similar pattern in the third quarter, when consumption of Coca-Cola beverages in India grew 37% and 15% in China, while declining 4% in North America.

A Thomson Reuters poll of analysts estimates a fourth quarter income of 61 cents a share on revenue of $7.21 billion.

Health Conscious Consumers Shun Sodas

CEO Muhtar Kent lamented the slowdown in consumer spending in North America, Japan and Europe when talking about earnings in the previous quarter. "(In these markets) consumers are experiencing a reset in terms of how they view the marketplace. We believe it is going to take a while for the consumers psyche to settle to a new normal," said Kent.

Besides the general malaise in consumer spending, Coca-Cola and rival Pepsico (PEP) are dealing with a much more fundamental change in the public's perception of its beverages. Its two mainstay products -- soda and water -- are experiencing sales declines in North America.

With an increased awareness of the effect of sweetened carbonated drinks on their health, more people have shunned sodas. In 2009, carbonated soft drinks likely saw a fifth straight year of declining sales.

Add to that the new frugality in how Americans spend their money and more people have moved to cheaper store brands for bottled water rather than brands like Coke's Dasani. Analysts wonder if people will ever return to higher priced brands for such commodity products like bottled water.

Coke, it seems, doesn't have any option but to rely on growth from other parts of the world. As China and India see a quicker pace of growth in wealth and their populations, Coke's bet in those countries could pay off.

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