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Bottler Coca-Cola HBC warns of higher finance costs, lower consumer spending

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FILE PHOTO - Bottles of Coca-Cola are seen at a Carrefour Hypermarket store in Montreuil, near Paris, France, February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo
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By Tanishaa Nadkar and Sangameswaran S

(Reuters) - Shares of soft drink bottler Coca Cola HBC AG fell 4 percent on Thursday after it warned of higher finance costs and weak consumer spending in several of its markets this year.

The company - which bottles and sells Coca-Cola Co drinks in 28 countries, mostly in Europe - said costs related to refinancing an €800-million (£703 million) bond, which matures in June 2020, may double this year and cross currency fluctuations would hurt its core profit by 50 million euros.

It also said economic growth this year is forecast to slow in a number of its markets. It said this is likely to crimp consumer spending in its "established" and "developing" markets segments, which together comprised 48 percent of its volumes last year.

"We are seeing that only in a few of the markets, there would be somewhat of a slowdown," Chief Executive Zoran Bogdanovic said.

These warnings overshadowed a rise in most of the key metrics for the company and made its stock the top loser on London's bluechip index.

Credit Suisse analysts, for example, lowered their earnings estimates for 2019 to 2021 by 3 percent, due to the higher financing costs.

"The capital structure is becoming inefficient as the company builds up cash," they said.


Analysts also flagged the lack of any merger news as weighing on the stock on Thursday, after reports from Coke HBC, rival bottler Coca-Cola European Partners and Coca-Cola itself raised some hopes of an announcement.

Coca-Cola was looking to refranchise its Africa bottling unit, and both bottlers are seen as potential buyers. Coca-Cola's general business model is to sell syrup to a network of franchise bottlers in different markets who do the heavy lifting of bottling and delivering the drinks.

The U.S. company is the second-biggest shareholder in both bottlers, with an 18.5 percent stake in CCEP and a 23 percent stake in HBC, according to Refinitiv data.

Coke European Partners forecast revenue and profit growth for 2019, and announced plans to seek a new stock market listing on London's main stock exchange.

In 2018, Coke HBC's comparable earnings before interest and tax rose to 680.7 million euros ($768.17 million) from 621 million euros a year earlier.

On a per share basis, earnings were 1.306 euros, which analysts at Jefferies said fell 3 percent short of their estimates. They added that earnings could be 8 percent lower this year, due to the higher financing charges.

Coke HBC said volumes were expected to grow this year in all three segments, with the established and emerging market segments accelerating marginally, as Nigeria returns to volume growth. However, growth in developing markets are likely to moderate to more "normalised levels", it said.

The company also said it was stocking up inventory of raw materials to last between two weeks and a month in the face of an impending Brexit.

Shares of Coca Cola HBC were down 3.5 percent by lunchtime in London. U.S.-listed shares in European Partners were indicated 1.3 percent higher.

(Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur/Keith Weir)