* Q1 net loss at 35.8 mln euros
* Russian rouble devaluation hurts profit
* CEO says Russia still a key growth driver (Adds CEO comments, details)
By Angeliki Koutantou
ATHENS, May 16 Coca-Cola HBC (CC HBC) , the world's No. 2 bottler of Coca-Cola Co drinks, posted a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss, hurt by currency losses in its Russian and Ukrainian operations.
Russia, CC HBC's biggest market in terms of sales, grew by a high single digit percentage in the first quarter. The company said Russia will remain its main growth driver, despite a likely slowdown in business over the rest of the year.
"What we have seen in the last couple of quarters in the external (macro) environment will filter through to the consumers and that will be reflected in the overall trading," chief executive officer Dimitris Lois told Reuters. "We still believe that Russia will be a key growth driver," he said.
The bottler, which buys syrup concentrate from Coca-Cola and then bottles and distributes the U.S. group's drinks in 28 countries in Europe and Nigeria, had a net loss of 35.8 million euros ($49.1 million) in the first three months of the year, excluding restructuring and other one-off items.
This was much higher than analysts' average forecast of a 17 million euro loss in a Reuters poll.
The sharp devaluation in the Russian rouble and Ukrainian hryvnia against the euro due to political tensions in Ukraine damaged CC HBC's results.
The group warned foreign exchange losses for the full year would be higher than initially expected, at around 90-100 million euros in 2014 versus the 51-70 million euros projected in February. But it was taking action including extra cost cutting in Ukraine and Russia to mitigate the impact.
Greece, a significant market in terms of profit, grew for the first time after four years. But the company said it was still cautious, citing record unemployment and falling household incomes in the country.
CC HBC reiterated its guidance for free cash flow of about 1.3 billion euros in the 2013-2015 period and Lois said that the firm was still expecting to enhance volume and margins this year.
($1 = 0.7291 Euros) (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Mark Heinrich)