Fitch Affirms Coca-Cola's IDRs at 'A+/F1'; Outlook Stable

CHICAGO--()--Fitch Ratings has affirmed the Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) and the debt ratings of The Coca-Cola Company (Coca-Cola) and its subsidiaries as follows:

The Coca-Cola Company

--Long-term IDR at 'A+';

--Bank credit facilities at 'A+';

--Senior unsecured debt at 'A+';

--Short-term IDR at 'F1';

--Commercial paper (CP) at 'F1'.

Coca-Cola Refreshments USA, Inc. and Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada, Ltd. (CCR)

--Long-term IDR at 'A+';

--Senior unsecured debt at 'A+';

--Senior shelf at 'A+'.

The Rating Outlook is Stable. Fitch's actions affect approximately $32.6 billion of debt as of Dec. 31, 2012.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

Coca-Cola ratings are supported by its position as the world's largest global beverage company and the value of the Coca-Cola brand. Coca-Cola has fifteen $1 billion brands, including Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Sprite, Powerade, Minute Maid, and Dasani. Given the prominence of carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) in Coca-Cola's beverage portfolio, the ratings consider the multiyear decline in CSD volumes in the U.S. and modest CSD growth in other developed countries. However, this risk is mitigated by Coca-Cola's market strength in developing, high-growth geographies.

Coca-Cola's ratings reflect the company's ability to consistently generate considerable cash flow from operations (CFFO) and free cash flow (FCF). Coca-Cola has demonstrated good execution and resiliency with topline and cash flow growth driven by increasing volume, price/mix and improved operating expense leverage, despite persistent global macroeconomic pressure. Consequently Coca-Cola generated $10.6 billion and $3.3 billion of CFFO and FCF, respectively, for the year ended Dec. 31, 2012, after generating $9.5 billion and $2.3 billion for the year ended Dec. 31, 2011.

Fitch expects Coca-Cola's FCF to exceed $3 billion in 2013. Management continues to meet or exceed its long-term financial targets of 3% - 4% worldwide volume and 6% - 8% operating income growth. Moreover, Coca-Cola should continue capturing growth and increasing beverage per capita consumption outside of the U.S. as consumer sentiment improves and the global recovery progresses.

Fitch is concerned about the significant growth in Coca-Cola's CP balance over the past year. CP reached $16.3 billion at the end of 2012 compared to $12.9 billion in 2011 and as a result represents approximately 50% of the firm's overall capital structure. Despite the company's strong liquidity and good market access, Fitch believes this level of CP could result in modestly higher financial risk over the longer term.

The growth in CP balances results from Coca-Cola's mismatch between its U.S. cash outflows and its significant international cash inflows which the company has been reluctant to repatriate. Coca-Cola maintains a comparable cash balance along with its committed bank lines to provide backup to its CP borrowings. At Dec. 31, 2012, Coca-Cola's liquidity position of $22.9 billion consisted of $13.5 billion of cash, $3.1 billion of short-term investments, and $6.3 billion of availability under its committed credit lines and revolving credit facility.

Coca-Cola has committed to $3.0 billion to $3.5 billion of net share repurchases in 2013, after repurchasing a net $3.1 billion in 2012, but has paced share repurchases to FCF generation. While not anticipated, a material reduction in Coca-Cola's cash balance without a commensurate reduction in debt could result in a negative rating action.

At Dec. 31, 2012, Coca-Cola's leverage was 2.4 times (x) on a total debt to operating EBITDA basis, up from 2.2x a year ago. Fitch considers leverage above 2.0x as weak for the rating category but ratings incorporated the fact that Coca-Cola's net leverage at Dec. 31, 2012 was 1.2x. Fitch believes Coca-Cola should address its large CP balance in the near-to-intermediate term with any reduction in cash matching any corresponding reduction in CP levels.

Ratings also consider the potential of future acquisitions given the company's transaction history. Fitch recognizes Coca-Cola's acquisitions could be partially funded with debt, but believes the company would likely restore credit measures back in line within a reasonable timeframe given its excess cash generation and cash flow growth. For large transactions, Fitch would expect Coca-Cola to curtail share repurchases.

Coca-Cola has a manageable maturity schedule and robust access to the capital markets. Fitch expects Coca-Cola to opportunistically refinance the approximate $1.5 billion and $2.6 billion of long-term debt due in 2013 and 2014.

RATINGS SENSITIVITIES

Positive: Future developments that may, individually or collectively, lead to positive rating include:

Coca-Cola's ratings could be positively affected by the company attaining total debt to operating EBITDA below 1.5x in combination with a stated commitment to maintain stronger credit protection measures.

Negative: Future developments that may, individually or collectively, lead to negative rating include:

Coca-Cola's ratings would be negatively affected by a large debt-financed acquisition or share repurchase program or a reduction in cash and cash equivalents without a commensurate reduction in CP balances. Fitch notes that while Coca-Cola has more CP outstanding than capacity under its various committed facilities, the company has consistently maintained a large cash balance, and the combination of cash and facility availability provide adequate backup for the CP. Coca-Cola had $16.3 billion of CP and other short-term borrowings at Dec. 31, 2012.

Fitch does not make a rating distinction between Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola Refreshments USA, Inc. (CCR) issued obligations since default risk is very low at this level on the rating scale. CCR's notes are structurally superior to the notes issued by Coca-Cola.

Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'. The ratings above were solicited by, or on behalf of, the issuer, and therefore, Fitch has been compensated for the provision of the ratings.

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:

--'Corporate Rating Methodology' (Aug. 9, 2012);

--'Parent and Subsidiary Rating Linkage' (Aug. 8, 2012).

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:

Corporate Rating Methodology

http://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=684460

Parent and Subsidiary Rating Linkage

http://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=685552

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Contacts

Fitch Ratings
Primary Analyst
William Densmore, +1-312-368-3125
Senior Director
Fitch Ratings, Inc.
70 W. Madison Street
Chicago, IL 60602
or
Carla Norfleet Taylor, CFA, +1-312-368-3195
Secondary Analyst
Director
or
Committee Chairperson
Wesley E. Moultrie II, CPA, +1-312-368-3186
Managing Director
or
Media Relations
Brian Bertsch, +1-212-908-0549 (New York)
brian.bertsch@fitchratings.com

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Contacts

Fitch Ratings
Primary Analyst
William Densmore, +1-312-368-3125
Senior Director
Fitch Ratings, Inc.
70 W. Madison Street
Chicago, IL 60602
or
Carla Norfleet Taylor, CFA, +1-312-368-3195
Secondary Analyst
Director
or
Committee Chairperson
Wesley E. Moultrie II, CPA, +1-312-368-3186
Managing Director
or
Media Relations
Brian Bertsch, +1-212-908-0549 (New York)
brian.bertsch@fitchratings.com