Coca-Cola sees 2015 earnings growth similar to this year, short of long-term target

IndustriesAssociated Press

Coca-Cola said Monday that it expects earnings growth in 2015 in line with this year's gain, which is short of the company's target.

The Atlanta-based company, which also makes Sprite, Powerade and Vitaminwater, has been struggling with declining soda consumption in the U.S. and other parts of the world. In October, Coca-Cola reported a lower quarterly profit on disappointing sales. Coca-Cola has said it plans to slash costs by $3 billion a year to boost its performance, with much of the savings being reinvested into marketing.

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Coca-Cola expects that earnings per share will grow 4 to 5 percent, excluding the impact of foreign currency changes, this year. Coca-Cola said it doesn't expect earnings per share growth to be "significantly different" next year.

The company's long-term outlook is for "high single-digit" percentage growth in earnings per share.

The company said it expects to "return to delivering against its stated growth targets" over the longer term. Kathy Waller, Coca-Cola's chief financial officer, said Monday that the beverage maker is moving swiftly to follow through on its turnaround strategy, but noted the changes "will take time to materialize."

The world's largest beverage maker also said Monday that it expects between $2 billion and $3 billion in share buybacks next year.

Wintergreen Advisers CEO David Winters, a critic of Coca-Cola's executive pay policies, on Monday criticized CEO Muhtar Kent's leadership and said he should be replaced. Wintergreen says his clients own about 2.5 million shares of The Coca-Cola Co., a tiny fraction of the company's shares outstanding.

"We believe excessive pay practices combined with slowing profit growth could threaten Coke's 50-year record of dividend increases," Winters wrote.

Coca-Cola earlier this year changed its long-term incentive program so that the company's shares are distributed to a smaller group of executives, while the rest are rewarded with cash bonuses instead. Investor Warren Buffett praised the changes, but they didn't go far enough for Winters.

In an emailed statement Monday, Coca-Cola said that it rejected Winter's claims and that Kent and the company's leadership "have outlined meaningful strategic plans to accelerate sustainable and profitable growth and deliver long-term value to our shareowners."

Coca-Cola shares closed down 34 cents to $40.57 Monday and shed another 17 cents in after-hours trading. The stock is down 1.8 percent in 2014.