Coca-Cola CFO Sees Opportunity In U.S. Market

Company says it still sees 'tremendous opportunity' in U.S. market although its growth is being outpaced by emerging markets such as India and China.

BOSTON (AP) -- Coca-Cola Co. still sees "tremendous opportunity" in the U.S. market although its growth is being outpaced by emerging markets such as India and China.

Chief Financial Officer Gary Fayard said the market is the company's "flagship" and changes in the U.S. in the coming years, including having a population that skews younger and is more diverse, will be good for its brands. But overall, the company's business in the U.S. and western Europe is still "fragile," he said at the Barclays Capital Back-To-School conference on Wednesday.

People in more developed economies have been limiting their purchases of soft drinks amid the ongoing economic slump and switching to healthier juices and teas. But business has been improving, he said.

"We saw some growth in the second quarter. And so while it is fragile, we are starting to see a little bit of a lift," he said, adding the company was cautiously optimistic on those markets.

The company has been expanding abroad to counteract weakness at home.

China, India and Brazil are providing growth opportunities for the company, though Fayard said the growth has been "more of a stairstep."

"It's going to grow significantly, probably take a little breather and then take off again," he said. Japan and Eastern Europe will have a delayed recovery because of the economy there as well, including high unemployment and an aging population.

So far this year, the company's total amount of drinks sold is up 4 percent from the same period last year and revenue is up 3 percent.

Fayard said the company's buyout of the North American operations of its largest bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises, is progressing and should close in the fourth quarter.

Coca-Cola, based in Atlanta, announced in February that it would buy the North American operations of its biggest bottler for $3.4 billion. It would also assume $8.88 billion in debt. In exchange, the bottler will buy certain foreign bottling operations from Coca-Cola, and its shareholders will get shares for a new company and $10 a share.

Fayard said the company is awaiting clearance by U.S. and Canadian antitrust authorities and approval from the bottler's shareholders. The company has set a meeting to take a vote on Oct. 1.

Shares of Coca-Cola rose 34 cents to $57.97 in afternoon trading Wednesday.

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