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Greece's largest firm leaves country, bad news for struggling nation

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 12th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In yet another blow to an economically distressed nation, Coca Cola Hellenic, Greece's largest company has announced this week that it will be leaving the country. Coca Cola's bottling plants there will continue to function. The company also said that the five percent of its business that the world's second-ranked Coke bottler has in Greece will be unaffected. But many analysts say this is grim news as Greece struggles to compete inside the euro zone.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Coca Cola Hellenic or CCH says it will now move to Switzerland and list its shares in London.

CCH, which already has secondary stock market listings in London and New York said in a bourse filing in Athens that shareholders, most of them abroad, will exchange all their stock for shares in Coca Cola HBC, based in Switzerland and that the 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 a statement.

The Coca-Cola Company of the United States has a 23-percent stake in CCH. The company ships bottles of 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. 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, which is also seeking a low-tax, low-volatility haven for its corporate base in Luxembourg.

"The Greek bourse is losing a very good company and the London Stock Exchange is gaining a very important group," Hatzidakis says. "It's very bad news for the Greek economy and bourse."

One analyst speaking on the condition of anonymity says that the move makes perfect sense.  CCH was out to rid its share price of risks associated with Greece as the nation remains bogged down in recession. There is also widespread mass discontent among the Greek population as its leaders slash budgets to meet international creditors' terms for loans intended to keep Athens inside Europe's single currency.

"This is a healthy company that does not want to suffer from Greece's high country risk," the analyst said.

Foreign investors have been steadily reducing their investment in the Athens Stock Exchange since the country was engulfed by the sovereign debt crisis in 2009. Greece's future in the 17-nation euro zone still remains in doubt.

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