Panamerican Beverages Inc., the largest soft drink bottler in Latin America and one of the world's largest bottlers of Coca-Cola products yesterday announced its first quarter net income for 2001 at $21.3m or $0.17 per basic share.

This was in comparison to a net loss, excluding restructuring charges, of $9.6m or $0.07 per share in the first quarter of 2000.

Consolidated volume growth was 4.7% over the 2000 first quarter to 307m unit cases. Cash operating profit grew 20.1% to $122.9m and net interest expense was reduced by 19.7% as the company continued to use strong cash flows to pay down debt.

Panamco, in its commitment to reduce its net debt by 30% over two years, paid down $96.2m in the 2001 first quarter and has reduced its net debt by $223.7m since the 2000 first quarter.

In a statement, Panamco said that its strong results were driven by revenue growth in its five regions and the benefits of the company's cost savings and debt reduction initiatives.

Chairman of Panamco, William Cooling said: "We continued to benefit during the quarter from the initiatives we announced last year and volume, revenue and COP growth have been very positive. Cash flows have been strong, as all of our territories have seen improvements, we are about halfway to our total debt reduction goal. And we have only just started to introduce new products."

He continued: "Overall we believe our first quarter results place us is an excellent position to achieve our full year earnings objectives."