Soft drinks bottler Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Co has reported a 10% drop in underlying net profit for 2008, and withheld guidance for 2009 due to the volatile economic climate.

Like-for-like net income for the 12 months of last year fell by 10% to EUR425m (US$537m), said Greece-based Coca-Cola Hellenic (CCHBC) today (17 February). Reported net profit fell by 52%, to EUR227.6m, compared to 2007.

The majority of the slip came in the fourth quarter, with like-for-like profit down 93% on the same period a year earlier.

Soaring commodity costs and unfavourable exchange rates, particularly the devaluation of sterling against the euro, were to blame, CCHBC said. Operating expenses rose by 53% in the fourth quarter.

The group's share price fell by 6% in Athens this morning, following the profit plunge and news that the firm would not be providing its usual full-year guidance in 2009.

"In the absence of reliable economic assumptions and currency forecasts, we believe that our past practice of providing annual earnings guidance would not be meaningful in the current environment," the bottler said.

Despite the profit drop, CCHBC reported a 5% lift in sales by volume during 2008, with an 8% rise in revenue sales. Drinks sales increased at a slightly faster pace in the fourth quarter.

The developing and emerging markets of Poland, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Nigeria all posted double-digit volume rises for the year. Russia, meanwhile, reported a 2% dip in volumes, with a double-digit decline in the fourth quarter, due to a slowing economy and poor weather conditions.

In the firm's established markets, volumes in Greece rose 2% and remained flat in Ireland. The group said that it expected Ireland to deteriorate in 2009, reflecting the poor state of the country's economy.

Cost savings initiatives will form a large part of CCHBC's strategy going forward, it said. The firm aims to save EUR100m in 2009 by trimming operating expenses. Specific details were not released.

"In addition, we are pursuing opportunities to capture efficiencies in a number of our operations," the bottler added. "These initiatives include the outsourcing of technical and other support areas and the consolidation of our manufacturing and warehousing infrastructure."