Greek deal lifts Coca-Cola shares

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SHARES IN Coca-Cola Beverages, the London-listed Coke bottler for eastern Europe, climbed yesterday as the company announced its drawn- out merger negotiations with Greece's Hellenic Bottling were back on track and nearing completion.

CCB shares closed up 13p at 128.5p after Hellenic said it would reduce the cash portion of its pounds 2.9bn offer but would retain the terms of its original paper bid, exchanging one new Hellenic share for every 9.5 CCB shares held. Responding to sharp declines in the stocks of both firms since their tie-up was first proposed on 16 June, the Greek company said it would buy a limited amount of CCB shares for 140p each in cash, down from an initial 150p per share cash offer. The partial cash bid has a ceiling of pounds 250m, less than half the original cap predicted by analysts.

The deal, which will create a company worth pounds 4.3bn, was recently threatened by a fall in Coca-Cola's European sales, following the Balkans crisis, and a scare about the contamination of Coca-Cola products in Belgium and France. The situation was worsened by a European Commission decision to investigate allegations that Coca-Cola was abusing its dominant position in European markets.

Both Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, CCB's parent company, and the Saudi Arabian Olayan group have agreed to accept shares in exchange for their interests in the bottling company. Together, the two companies own 61.3 per cent of CCB. John Burge, a broker at Auerbach Grayson, said: "Coke and Olayan are on board so it's pretty much a deal done."

The merger will create the world's second largest Coke bottler, with operations in 22 countries in eastern and southern Europe. The merged company will be based in Athens and headed by Neville Isdell, CCB's chief executive.