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The September quarter was something of a mixed bag for The Coca-Cola Company (KO Free Coca-Cola Stock Report), the world's largest beverage company and a Dow-30 component. The headline numbers were relatively unexciting, with revenues inching ahead 1%, to $12.3 billion, while share net came in at $0.50, $0.02 below the tally in the prior-year period and $0.05 short of our estimate.

Currency headwinds were a bigger factor than was the case earlier in the year, dragging down sales and operating income by 5% and 7%, respectively. Otherwise, volume trends held steady, showing growth of 4% for the quarter and 5% year to date. Notably, each geographic operating group reported volume increases for the September interim. Progress in the developed world was respectable (up 2%), with Europe, in particular, appearing to get back on track. Volumes in the region shifted from a 4% decline in the June period to a 1% improvement year over year in the latest three months. Still, emerging markets remain the big growth story, with strong gains in Thailand (+19%) and India (15%) driving volumes in these parts of the world up 7%, overall. Results from China, though, were rather lackluster, as growth slowed to 2% from 7% in the June period.

Meanwhile, operating profits rose just 1% on a comparable, currency neutral basis, as declines in the Bottle Investments Group and in the Europe and Pacific regions largely offset gains in the rest of the world. On the positive side, operating profit growth should pick up in the December quarter, with two extra days in the period and a variety of other factors helping to drive a double-digit increase year over year. In view of this, we are maintaining our earnings estimate for the final three months of 2012 at $0.44 a share, an improvement of 13% from the prior-year period. This would bring the full-year tally to $2.00, up 4% from 2011. And we look for growth to approach 10% next year, as earnings climb to $2.20.

The market had a lukewarm reaction to Coca-Cola's results, as shares of the beverage giant traded down slightly. This equity, in fact, has performed sluggishly since mid-summer, underperforming the broader market during this stretch. Still, we continue to view KO stock as a suitable holding for conservative investors. It carries our top rank for Safety (1) and figures to deliver worthwhile, risk-adjusted total returns in the 3 to 5 years ahead.

About the Company:The Coca-Cola Company is the world's leading marketer of ready-to-serve, nonalcoholic beverages. On any given day, 1.7 billion individual servings of the company's brands are consumed by people around the globe. The Atlanta-based company currently has more than 500 wholly owned and licensed brands, including 15 that generate $1 billion or more in annual sales.

At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.