The soft drinks giant, Coca-Cola Co., posted a rise in net income for the fourth quarter of 2002 from US$914m to US$930m, the latter figure including a 2-cent-a share expense related to the accounting change for stock-based compensation. Excluding this expense, fourth quarter earnings of 38 cents a share were in line with analysts' estimates, which averaged around 40 cents a share.

The company attributed the rise in income in part to strong sales of water brands and other products which it had recently acquired or licensed.

Revenues were up by 14.3% from US$4.2 billion to US$4.8 billion. Worldwide unit case volume rose by 6% in the fourth quarter and by 5% for the year. Unit case volumes in North America increased by 5% for the quarter and by 6% for the year as a whole, driven by strong growth in both carbonated and non-carbonated sales.

"Throughout the year, we outpaced the rest of the industry in each of the major beverage categories," said Coca-Cola chairman and CEO, Douglas Daft."We grew our carbonated soft drinks by 2% during the year and non-carbonated beverages by 28%. In the juices and juice drinks category, our growth of 21% was well ahead of the industry's 4% growth. Across 70 countries, Powerade grew 25% and was ahead of the industry average, while our water business grew by 68%, well above the global industry's 8% rate. Overall, we were pleased with our results in 2002 in the face of a difficult macroeconomic environment, and we are confident about how we will execute in 2003."

Coca-Cola said it expects to take a charge of around US$400m against 2003 earnings on a pre-tax basis in respect of the restructuring of its operations in North America and Germany. In North America, it is combining its Coca-Cola North America, Minute Maid, and Fountain operations, resulting in around 1,000 job losses. In Germany, Coca-Cola Erfrischungsgetraenke AG is closing three bottling plants, making 900 people redundant.

As a result of these changes, Coca-Cola said it expects to see pre-tax benefits of at least US$50m in 2003 and US$100m on an annualized basis from 2004.

According to a First Call poll of analysts' estimates, Coca-Cola is expected to post first-quarter earnings of 40 cents a share, second-quarter earnings of 56 cents a share, and full-year 2003 earnings of $1.92 a share.