ECONOMY

CCHBC ups 2007 EPS target

Greece’s Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company (CCHBC) raised its 2007 earnings per share target and said it will pay a higher dividend this year after reporting a 17 percent rise in second-quarter net profit. CCHBC raised its full-year EPS target to -1.85-1.88 from -1.77-1.80, thanks to its strong earnings momentum in the first half. «The fact that CCHBC raised its 2007 outlook is very positive, this is helping its shares today,» said an analyst who declined to be named. The group said first-half net profit rose 28 percent to -221.7 million. Net earnings in the second quarter grew 17 percent, as an Italian acquisition and a new low-calorie drink more than offset higher raw materials costs. Second-quarter net profit came to -196.3 million, versus an average forecast of -194.63 million in a recent Reuters poll. «The second quarter marked improved and sustainable margin expansion in the developing markets, continued strong profitability in Bulgaria and Romania post EU accession as well as further investments in Russian production capacity,» CCHBC’s Managing Director Doros Constantinou said in a statement. Higher dividend CCHBC also said it will increase its dividend this year. «We are always looking to have… a dividend per share increase of at least 5 percent each year,» CCHBC’s Chief Financial Officer Nik Jhangiani told Reuters. Sales volume in the second quarter increased 14 percent to 567.7 million unit cases, while sales revenues rose 17 percent to -1.84 billion. CCHBC launched light drink Coca-Cola Zero in eight countries earlier in the year. CCHBC said it expected regulatory approval by the end of the month for its acquisition of Russian bottler Aquavision, which it said last month it would buy for -191.5 million. The plant, located near Moscow, produces a full range of non-alcoholic beverages, including carbonated soft drinks, fruit juices, bottled water, ready-to-drink tea and sports drinks. «We are still trying to close this acquisition and once we finalize the plan we will be able to give guidance some time in the third quarter,» Jhangiani said. CCHBC, with operations in 28 countries in Europe and Africa, trades about 18 times estimated 2007 earnings, at par with Coca-Cola Enterprises, the world’s largest Coke bottler. (Reuters)