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Beverage giant Coca-Cola (KO Free Coca-Cola Stock Report) finished 2012 in fine fashion. December-quarter results were roughly in-line with our expectations, with revenues rising 4% year over year, while adjusted earnings came in at $0.45 a share, up 15% from the prior-year period and a penny ahead of our estimate. Notably, the quarter benefited from the inclusion of two extra selling days, which helped the company overcome moderately higher commodity costs, particularly in North America and the Bottling Investments Group. For the full year, revenues advanced 3%, to $48 billion, and earnings climbed 5%, to $2.01 a share. 

Overall, volume rose 3% for the final quarter of 2012 and 4% for the full year, as the company continues to expand its share of the global market for nonalcoholic ready-to-drink beverages. Still beverages, such as water, tea, and sports drinks, again made the biggest strides, though the core Coca-Cola brand business also increased volumes by 3%. Meanwhile, from a geographic perspective, emerging markets remain key growth drivers, with positive momentum evident in Thailand (+22%), India (+16%), and Russia (+8%). Business in China, though, has tailed off, with volumes declining 4% in the December quarter. Regardless, the company expects to see sequential improvement out of this market in 2013. Elsewhere, Europe remains sluggish (down 5% in the fourth quarter), reflecting the ongoing macroeconomic challenges in that part of the world, while volumes in North America continue to edge higher (+1%).      

As for 2013, we are making no changes to our estimates. Volumes should continue to rise at a low single-digit clip. The company will likely again face headwinds from higher commodity costs and negative currency effects, but to a lesser extent than was the case last year. Meanwhile, the company aims to invest $3.0 billion to $3.5 billion in its stock-buyback program (versus $3.1 billion in 2012), which should aid share-net comparisons. In all, we look for earnings per share to reach $2.20, up 9% for the year.

Coke shares slipped slightly following the release of December-quarter earnings. Otherwise, the stock has been a solid performer so far in 2013, managing to keep pace with the healthy, mid-single-digit gains seen in the broader market. Overall, this equity holds a top-notch Safety rank (1: Highest) and an above-average dividend yield, suggesting it will likely have considerable appeal for conservative investors. 

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.