ECONOMY

Coca-Cola HBC getting ready for NYSE listing

Greek bottler Coca-Cola HBC announced yesterday it was going ahead with plans for a US listing via share sales by two of its main shareholders, but analysts questioned whether the timing was ideal. Coca-Cola HBC, the world’s second-largest bottler of Coca-Cola products, said shareholders Socomex SA and the Coca-Cola Co planned to sell some of their holdings at the same time that the Greek company lists on the New York exchange. Socomex, of the Kar-Tess Group, will offer up to 8.3 million shares, and Refreshments Product Services, a unit of the Coca-Cola Co, will offer up to 4.7 million. The company said the combined sales would represent up to 5.5 percent of its outstanding share capital. The bottler said it had plans to raise additional capital and would not be participating in the offering. The sales would leave the Kar-Tess Group with about 38 percent and Coca-Cola Co with 22 percent. Kar-Tess is itself controlled by Greece’s Levendis Group. Analysts said the US listing, announced in May and scheduled to take place by end-2002, could boost share prices by improving liquidity and highlighting the valuation discount to Coca-Cola Co, despite the Greek bottler’s better growth prospects. «It’s good news for CCHBC as it’ll increase its free float from 35 percent to about 40 percent,» said Costas Tzoutzourakis at Devletoglou Securities. But analysts also said the timing was worrying, especially because the company’s sales in some key markets may face pressure in the second half. «On the positive side, (the offering) could lead to a much needed liquidity boost for the ordinary shares and should indeed raise the profile of CCHBC in the US,» said Schroder Salomon Smith Barney in a flash comment. «On the negative side, the timing for an offering is far from ideal, considering the macroeconomic pressures in Nigeria and the impact of poor summer weather in Central Europe in third-quarter results,» it said. CCHBC, with a market capitalization of about 3.7 billion euros ($3.65 billion), is one of the largest bottlers of non-alcoholic beverages in Europe and operates in 26 countries with a total population of more than 500 million. Its main growth drivers are emerging markets such as Russia and Nigeria. About 11 percent of sales volume comes from countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Managing Director Irial Finan said that flooding and bad weather in Eastern Europe could have an impact but maintained full-year estimates of a 14- to 16-percent increase in core profits on 6- to 8-percent sales growth. First-half 2002 group core earnings for the company rose 17 percent year-on-year to 291 million euros. Net profit rose to 16.9 million euros from 0.2 million in the first half of 2001.