Coca-Cola Enterprises Profit Falls 12 Percent

NEW YORK (AP) — Coca-Cola Enterprises, which bottles and distributes Coca-Cola drinks in Europe, said Thursday that its profit fell 12 percent in the fourth quarter as it dealt with rising costs and sold fewer beverages.

The company, which is separate from Coca-Cola Co., said sales volume for the period fell by 5.5 percent amid "ongoing challenging conditions." Given the weak economic conditions in the region, the company said it doesn't plan to hike prices on drinks enough in 2013 to make up for its own rising costs. That's expected to hurt its gross margins, the company said.

During the October to December period, the company hiked prices by 4 percent, reflecting a 3.5 percent increase in cost of sales. The figures don't include a French tax increase that has hurt its business.

Sales volume in continental Europe fell 5.5 percent and 6 percent in Great Britain.

For the October to December period, the company said it earned $100 million, or 34 cents per share. That's compared to $113 million, or 37 cents per share, in the year-ago period.

Not including one-time items, the company said it earned 45 cents per share, which was a penny more than Wall Street expected.

Net sales rose 1 percent to $1.916 billion, compared with the $1.918 billion analysts predicted, according to FactSet.

Looking ahead, the Atlanta-based company said it expects to return to volume growth in 2013, with earnings per share expected to grow about 10 percent. Based on current foreign currency exchange rates, the company said its results could benefit between 2 percent to 3 percent, suggesting earnings per share of $2.52 to $2.55.

Analysts expected earnings of $2.51 for 2013.

Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. also affirmed that it's committed to at least $500 million in share buybacks for the year.

Its shares slipped 19 cents to $34.71 in morning trading.

Coca-Cola Co. reports its fourth-quarter results Tuesday.

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