Thursday, October 11 12:20:23
Greece's biggest company is leaving the country, drinks bottler Coca Cola Hellenic saying it will move to Switzerland and list its shares in London, dealing a blow to the debt-crippled Greek economy.
The material impact on Greece may be limited - its Greek plants will go on working and CCH said the five percent of its business that the world's second-ranked Coke bottler has in Greece will be unaffected. But analysts quickly saw it as bad news for a nation struggling to compete inside the euro zone.
Coca Cola Hellenic, which already has secondary stock market listings in London and New York, said in a bourse filing in Athens that shareholders, most of whom are abroad, will exchange all their stock for shares in Coca Cola HBC AG, based in Switzerland. That stock will have its primary quote in London.
"A primary listing on Europe's biggest and most liquid stock exchange reflects better the international character of Coca Cola Hellenic's business activities and shareholder base," the company said in its regulatory statement.
The firm, in which The Coca-Cola Co of the United States has a 23-percent stake, bottles Coke and other drinks in 28 countries from Russia to Nigeria. About 95 percent of its shareholders and business activity are outside Greece.
"This transaction makes clear business sense," chief executive Dimitris Lois told analysts in a conference call. An overwhelming majority of shareholders have already accepted moving a company which has long complained about Greek taxes.
Analyst Manos Hatzidakis of Beta Securities in Athens said that the move made sense for the firm, which follows Greek dairy group FAGE this month in seeking a low-tax, low-volatility haven for its corporate base - in FAGE's case Luxembourg.
"The Greek bourse is losing a very good company and the London Stock Exchange is gaining a very important group," said Hatzidakis.
"It's very bad news for the Greek economy and bourse." (C ) Reuters