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Coca-Cola earnings rise on higher volumes

[NEW YORK] Coca-Cola announced a jump in fourth-quarter profits Tuesday on higher volumes and prices and said it would fully refranchise bottling operations in North America and China in a cost-cutting move.

Net income for the 2015 fourth quarter was US$1.2 billion, up 60.6 per cent compared with the year-ago period.

Revenues fell eight percent to US$10 billion.

Coca-Cola's global volume grew three per cent in the quarter, driven especially by gains in still products such as bottled water, juice and sports drinks. Volumes for still products jumped six percent globally, as well as in the key North American market.

Volumes in sparkling beverages grew two percent, with Coke soda gaining one percent and Coke Zero seven percent, partially offset by a five percent drop in Diet Coke volumes.

Earnings were also boosted by a 9.2 per cent drop in expenses to US$3.9 billion and a two percent increase in pricing; those improvements helped to offset the negative effects of the strong dollar.

For the year, Coca-Cola reported net income of US$7.3 billion, up 3.6 per cent from the year-ago period. Revenues dropped 3.7 per cent to US$44.3 billion.

Coca-Cola said it has reached agreements to sell bottler facilities accounting for more than 40 per cent of its volume in the United States. It plans to refranchise the entire North American region by the end of 2017.

Coca-Cola also has entered into a preliminary agreement to refranchise its company-owned bottling operations in China to its partners China Foods Limited and Swire Beverage Holdings Limited.

"The acceleration of our global refranchising marks a step change in our efforts to refocus the Coca-Cola Company on its core business of building strong, valuable brands and leading a system of strong bottling partners," said chief executive Muhtar Kent.

Shares of Coca-Cola rose 0.5 per cent to US$42.75 in opening trade.