- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2003

ATLANTA, April 16 (UPI) — The Coca-Cola Co. reported first-quarter earnings per share of $0.34, on revenue of $4.5 billion for the quarter, a statement from the company said Wednesday.

Worldwide unit case volume increased 4 percent in the first quarter, reflecting 3 percent volume growth in North America and 4 percent internationally.

Shares of Coca-Cola were trading off after Legg Mason analyst Mark Swartzberg downgraded the beverage giant to "hold" from "buy" based on a forecast that going forward, internal unit volume growth will stay "well below" Coca-Cola's long-term target of 5 percent to 6 percent.

In early midday trading, shares of Coca-Cola were down $2.68, or 6.3 percent, at $39.85.

The company noted in its statement that the beverage industry has not been immune to the weak global macroeconomic environment that has affected many business sectors.

According to the company, in addition to these factors, the beverage industry, including Coca-Cola, was adversely affected by short-term external factors, including a slowdown in "away from home" consumption caused by the Iraq war, a lengthy national strike in Venezuela, a change in deposit laws in Germany, and a shift in the timing of the Easter holiday.

Doug Daft, chairman and chief executive officer, said: "The results of The Coca-Cola Company are always driven by the operational, financial and brand strengths of our entire system in our markets. Given the current volatile worldwide environment, our management team has continued to carefully monitor worldwide events and respond rapidly and effectively."

He added: "Throughout the quarter, we achieved share gains as our system successfully responded to and managed worldwide challenges and opportunities with flexibility, speed and professionalism. Looking ahead, we are confident our results will improve during the year as we move beyond the short-term external factors that impacted this quarter."

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