Coca-Cola Co.'s chief executive said today (7 February) that the US drinks giant was "making progress" and said sales of its carbonated soft drinks would continue to improve in 2006.

"We've arrested the decline, and we're making progress," Neville Isdell, chairman and chief executive, said after the company had reported a lower than expected fall in fourth-quarter earnings.

Net income fell 28% to US$864m during the last quarter of 2005 but the fall was not as steep as analysts had expected. Fourth-quarter revenues rose 7% to US$5.5bn.

"We are beginning to see early signs of an execution-focused turnaround that is working," Mark Swartzberg, beverage analyst at US investment bank Stifel Nicolaus, said.

Isdell said "the innovation pipeline is strong" and that he was "optimistic that the positive trends of '05 will continue in '06".

"We grew unit case volume for carbonated soft drinks over 2% for the first time since 2000," Isdell said of last year.

Coca-Cola Co. saw full-year revenues rise 6% during 2005 on the back of a 4% increase in case volumes, led by strong sales in emerging markets including China, Turkey, Brazil and Russia. Full-year income was flat at US$4.87m.

Isdell called 2005 "a transition year" for the company but said it was making progress key markets.

"The company delivered solid unit case volume growth that was well balanced between carbonated soft drinks and noncarbonated beverages. Given our performance in 2005, including progress in key markets, and a well-developed pipeline of innovation and marketing, we will assess ourselves against our long-term growth targets beginning in 2006 and beyond."