Central European Distribution Corp (CEDC), the wine and spirits group, has reported a loss of US$16.6m for 2008, but said that it was confident of increasing sales in 2009.

CEDC said today (02 March) that foreign currency charges dragged the firm to a net loss in 2008.

Net sales rose by 38% to $1.64bn for the year, compared to 2007, while underlying net income, the firm added, was $131m, up from $70m a year earlier.

Group CEO William Carey praised the firm's widening operating margin, which grew by more than 200 basis points in 2008.

He said that, while economic conditions deteriorated in Central and Eastern Europe, he expected this to be balanced by slower wage inflation, as well as lower raw materials and energy costs.

Going forward, Carey said: "Our key vodka brands and imported brands continued to perform strongly over the course of 2008 and although, we anticipate a slow down in 2009 from last years high growth levels, we still expect growth in the single to double digit range for our key brands in Poland, Russia and Hungary.

"Our market share gains in Russia have been extremely dynamic over 2008, reaching a 20% share by volume (up from 12% by volume at the beginning of the year), which is almost double the next competitor."

CEDC said that discusssions were ongoing with private equity group Lion Capital over CEDC's desire to buy out Lion's remaining 58% stake in the Russian Alcohol Group.

The drinks firm said today that it hoped to agree a fixed price for the stake, "at a valuation which is more reflective of current market conditions and the positive sales performance of the business".

Payments would be spread over five years, provisionally ending 2013, it said.