Coca Cola HBC posts first profit rise for three years

Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:03am EST

* 2013 profit at 293 million euros

* Profit rise is the first in three years

* Cost cutting more that offset soft demand, forex losses

* Company says "cautiously optimistic" for 2014

ATHENS, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Swiss-based Coca-Cola HBC , the world's No.2 bottler of Coca-Cola posted a 3 percent rise in 2013 profit on Friday, the first in three years, as cost cutting more than offset soft demand for its beverages.

The company said net profit, excluding restructuring and other one-off items, rose to 293 million euros ($400.42 million) last year above an average forecast of 279 million euros in a recent Reuters poll.

CC HBC buys syrup concentrate from Coca-Cola and then bottles and distributes the U.S. group's drinks in 28 countries in Europe and Nigeria.

Volume dropped 1 percent to 2.061 billion unit cases, at the high end of market expectations, as austerity in Greece and Italy was partly offset by growth in emerging markets, such as Russia and Nigeria.

Operating profit was stable at 454 million euros, as significant cost savings offset currency losses. CC HBC said operating profit margin improved for the first time in the past three years.

"Based on these results and against the backdrop of continuing economic difficulties and volatility in our territories, we are cautiously optimistic about the year ahead," CCH HBC's Chief Executive Dimitris Lois said in a statement.

The bottler reiterated its outlook for free cash flow of about 1.3 billion euros in 2013-2015.

Seeking to improve access to capital markets, CC HBC left debt-laden Greece for tax-stable Switzerland and moved its primary listing to London last year.

The company proposed a dividend of 0.354 euro per share from 0.34 in 2012.

The company's shares trade 20.5 times estimated 2014 earnings compared to a multiple of 16 for Coke's biggest bottler Coca-Cola Enterprises.

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