Coca-Cola HBC gets off to a good start in the first quarter

Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company (CCHBC) reported a 19 percent rise in first-quarter net profit, thanks to volume growth and cost control, driving its shares higher. The world’s second-largest bottler of Coca-Cola products by sales, which is 24 percent-owned by the Coca-Cola Co, said yesterday that net profit came to 14.6 million euros ($18.76 million). This compared with an average forecast of 14.38 million euros in a Reuters poll of 12 analysts. The company, which had reported a 12-million-euro loss in the same period a year ago, adjusted last year’s figures to strip out good will in line with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), resulting in a profit of 12.3 million euros. «Although the first quarter is the least indicative for CCHBC’s full-year performance, it is positive that the company got off to a good start,» Marfin Analysis wrote in a note. The first quarter is traditionally a weak period for CCHBC. EBITDA rose by a stronger-than-expected 9 percent to 121.3 million euros while sales volume increased by 4 percent to 311 million unit cases. «These results reflect strong organic volume growth, mix improvement, cost control and favorable currency impact,» Chief Executive Doros Constantinou said in a statement. Sales rose 5 percent to 925.4 million euros. Constantinou told Reuters the bottler was eyeing the mineral water market in Italy and Russia as part of its diversification and expansion strategy. «If there is an opportunity to get into the water business, where we are not present, in Italy, in a profitable way, we’ll do so. If there is an opportunity somewhere else, like Russia, to get into sourced water, we’ll do so as well,» he said. CCHBC reiterated its recommendation of a 2004 dividend of 0.28 euro per share. (Reuters)