Coca-Cola Beverages sales hit by Kosovo

COCA-COLA BEVERAGES, the world's fourth-largest bottler of Coca- Cola soft drinks, yesterday unveiled a poor set of first-half figures but insisted that prospects remained sound and its merger with Greece's Hellenic Bottling was on track.

The company blamed economic turmoil in Russia, the conflict in Kosovo and knock-on effects from health scares affecting Coca-Cola products in Belgium and France for a 5 per cent fall in case volumes in the six months to 2 July.

Neville Isdell, the chairman and chief executive, said: "The figures that we have revealed, obviously, in the short term have not been very good, but it does not affect the fundamentals of the way that we do business."

Coca-Cola Beverages, which markets products across central and southern Europe, said it made a loss per share of 2.3p, compared with 0.7p in a year ago. Turnover was pounds 591.4m, compared with last year's pounds 569.6m.

Mr Isdell said the merger with Hellenic, which also bottles Coca-Cola products, was subject to approval from regulatory bodies and shareholders but should be realised in the first half of next year.

An analyst with a leading European investment bank said: "They've certainly had extraordinarily bad luck in the timing of their listing ... but I don't think that the Coca-Cola story is off the rails."

Coca-Cola Beverages shares, which were priced at 160p when the bottler was spun off and listed by Australia's Coca-Cola Amatil last summer, ended 0.5p stronger yesterday at 126p.

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