ECONOMY

Coca-Cola HBC raises its forecast

Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Co, the world’s second-largest bottler of Coke beverages, said third-quarter profits climbed 27 percent and raised its annual earnings forecast on sales in Eastern Europe and a new calorie-free soda. Net income climbed to -213 million, or 88 cents a share, from -167.1 million or 69 cents a year earlier, the Athens-based company said today in a statement. That beat the -203.7 million median estimate by 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. Revenues gained 15 percent to -1.9 billion, above the survey’s -1.88 billion estimate. The bottler now expects a gain of 21 percent in annual per-share profit, more than as much as 19 percent previously, the second time it has raised the forecast this year. Expanding economies in countries such as Russia and Romania are driving purchases of bottled water, juices and soft drinks, while the introduction of Coke Zero has revived sales in Western Europe. The «creditable» earnings were «driven by continued strength in emerging markets and successful product innovation in established markets,» wrote Swetha Ramachandran, an analyst at Credit Suisse, with a «neutral» rating on the stock. Coca-Cola HBC shares gained 38 cents, or 1 percent, to -40.38 in Athens. They’ve advanced 57 percent in the past year, the biggest climb in the 12-member Bloomberg Europe Beverages Index, which has added 33 percent. The company has a market value of -9.77 billion. Sales forecast «We delivered another quarter of robust volume growth, together with strong operating margin expansion,» CEO Doros Constantinou said in the statement. The bottler said annual sales will climb about 13 percent by volume, at the top of its previous forecast of 11 percent to 13 percent. More than half its revenues come from emerging markets. Sales by volume increased 18 percent to 280.4 million unit cases in the group of countries that includes Russia, Romania, Ukraine and Bulgaria as the company boosted production. The quantity of beverages sold in established markets such as Greece and Italy rose 8 percent helped by Coke Zero, a calorie-free soda formulated to taste like the regular version of the drink. Raw material cost pressures eased in the second half of the year, Chief Financial Officer Nik Jhangiani said in an interview. The final quarter, which accounts for about a fifth of volume as Europeans drink fewer cold beverages during the winter, will still see «strong momentum,» Jhangiani said. Sports beverages Third-quarter earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) gained 21 percent to -377 million. The Greek company bottles Coke, Fanta, water, juices and other non-alcoholic beverages in 27 European countries and Nigeria. The third quarter is typically the biggest contributor to profit as demand for cold beverages rises during Europe’s summer and sales of more profitable single servings climb. The bottler has teamed with Coca-Cola Co to buy water and juice companies from Italy to Russia as more consumers turn away from sugary sodas. Non-carbonated beverages now account for a third of annual volume, up from a 10th in 2001. Health-conscious beverages such as Coke Zero and new products including teas, flavored waters and sports beverages are fueling sales growth. The company, which bought a Russian plant this year to boost capacity in one of its fastest-growing markets, has «a couple of things in the pipeline» with regard to acquisitions, Jhangiani said. Those would take precedence over any decision to return cash to shareholders, he said. Coca-Cola HBC plans to develop and sell a ready-to-drink coffee beverage in Greece and Italy early next year, tapping a coffee-drinking culture in both Mediterranean nations, the CEO said. The company said yesterday it signed an agreement with Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Illycaffe SpA, the second-largest Italian coffee producer after Lavazza SpA. The Coca-Cola Company, the world’s biggest soft-drink maker, owns a stake of about 24 percent in the Greek bottler.