ATLANTA — After organic revenue growth exceeded expectations companywide in fiscal year 2019, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. has presented a 2020 outlook in the range of its long-term growth model.
Organic revenue in 2019 grew 6%, which was two percentage points ahead of the initial forecast and at the top end of the long-term growth model, said James Robert B. Quincey, chairman and chief executive officer, in a Jan. 30 earnings call. Organic revenue growth was 3% in North America, 13% in Latin America, and 5% in both Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia.
“We delivered on our financial commitments for the year even in the face of stronger-than-expected currency headwinds,” Mr. Quincey said. “We see the right strategies taking hold, supported by the right partners, underpinned by a growing and vibrant industry, but we’re just getting started.”
Net income attributable to shareowners of Coca-Cola was $8,920 million, or $2.09 per share, in the fiscal year ended Dec. 31, 2019, which marked a 39% increase from $6,434 million, or $1.51 per share, in the previous year. Net operating revenues rose 9% to $37,266 million from $34,300 million. Coca-Cola’s stock price on the New York Stock Exchange closed at $58.86 per share on Jan. 30, which compared with a close of $57.01 per share on Jan. 29.
Coca-Cola in fiscal 2020 expects about 5% growth in organic revenues and e.p.s. of $2.25, a 7% increase from 2019.
“Based on the progress we’ve been making and the plans we have in place, we expect to achieve results well within our long-term growth targets for revenue, profit and earnings per share for 2020,” said John Murphy, executive vice-president and chief financial officer. “Importantly, we expect to deliver meaningful U.S. dollar e.p.s. growth.”
Guidance for revenue and operating income is in the middle of the long-term growth range, Mr. Quincey said.
“We’re still projecting at this point in time a mild currency headwind, which then gives us the 7% (increase) on e.p.s.,” he said.
New York-based Morgan Stanley, a multinational investment bank and financial services company, said Coca-Cola Co. offers a “clearly superior” long-term growth outlook versus its consumer product goods peers based on Coca-Cola’s solid category growth, stronger pricing power and favorable strategy tweaks. Initial fiscal-year 2020 organic top-line guidance eventually will prove conservative, as it did in 2019, according to Morgan Stanley, with continued momentum in sparkling drinks, strong pricing power and accelerating innovation. Morgan Stanley gave Coca-Cola a price target of $65 per share for January 2021.
Comparable currency-neutral operating income in 2019 grew 13%, ahead of the initial goal of 10% to 11%. Unit case volume grew 2% for the year, which included 2% growth for sparkling soft drinks, 3% for water, enhanced water and sports drinks, and 1% for tea and coffee. Unit case volume was even for juice, dairy and plant-based beverages.
In North America, operating income rose 12% to $2,594 million from $2,318 million, and net operative revenues increased 2% to $11,915 million from $11,630 million. Coke Energy launched in select international markets in 2019 and recently launched in the United States. Coca-Cola will put its “full marketing muscle” behind that launch, Mr. Quincey said.
“In terms of Coke Energy, we’re certainly making a strong effort in North America, kind of a version 2.0, having done a 1.0 in a number of international markets,” Mr. Quincey said. “One of the things we learned as we went into the North American market is, we wanted to move the flavor profile of the product closer to Coke, less citrusy, more Coke-like. We think that’s going to work well for the North American market, and we’ll be rolling that formula out in some of the round-one marketplaces.”
Internationally, Mr. Quincey spoke about the coronavirus that originated in China and recycling efforts in Sweden.
The World Health Organization on Jan. 30 reported 170 people had died from the coronavirus, which first was detected in Wuhan, China. Mr. Quincey said the coronavirus may play out differently than SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which was identified in 2003 and first infected humans in China.
“It’s worth noting the Chinese economy is much bigger (than in 2003), and this could become more connected to the rest of the world,” he said. “China accounts for about 10% of our global volume, less on a profit and revenue basis, but about 10% of our global volume.”
He said offices are closed in China as well as a good number of factories. He said Coca-Cola will focus on three areas: employee safety, supporting the Chinese government in dealing with the crisis, and business recovery and continuity.
“So it’s way too early to tell what the impact in the short term is, and I think ultimately, in the long run, it will rebalance,” Mr. Quincey said.
Coca-Cola Sweden expects to become the first market in the world to transition to 100% rPET (recyclable polyethylene terephthalate plastic) for all plastic bottles made in the country.
“Those recycled PET bottles have a lower carbon footprint than just one-way bottle capitals but also have a lower carbon footprint than cans or glass, at least on today’s technology,” Mr. Quincey said. “So actually, if your objective remains zero waste and lower carbon footprint, which is where I believe the conversation is going to move toward, then achieving a circular economy on PET is actually the best way to achieve that objective.”
In the fourth quarter companywide, net income attributable to shareowners of Coca-Cola was $2,042 million, or 48c per share on the common stock, which was up 135% from $870 million, or 20c per share, in the previous year’s fourth quarter. Net operating revenues in the fourth quarter increased 16% to $9,068 million from $7,806 million.