CCE shareholders approve massive deal with Coke

To use a technical Wall Street term, this was what they call a shoo-in.

In a 10-minute special meeting Friday morning, shareholders of Coca-Cola Enterprises voted to give the last, crucial go-ahead to Coca-Cola Co.'s buyout of CCE’s North American bottling operations.

"Thank you for voting to approve this historic transaction," John Brock, chief executive of CCE, told the 50 or so shareholders meeting at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. "I look forward to continuing our success at CCE."

In a deal valued at $12.3 billion, investors voted themselves a payout of $10 per share and ownership in a remade CCE, which will emerge as a European company after the deal closes. It already has control over territories including the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Luxembourg, and with the deal's closing, it will take over Norway and Sweden from Coca-Cola. It will have the right to purchase territorial rights in Germany in the future.

Its headquarters will remain in Atlanta with a staff of about 140 people. Many of its current U.S. employees will move over to Coca-Cola. CCE will have 18 plants and 13,000 employees in Europe, handling 600 million cases. Coca-Cola has agreed to take over about $8.9 billion of CCE's outstanding debt.

In Europe, "New CCE" will have to grapple with a number of challenges, including relatively low per capita consumption of soft drinks. But CCE executives say the company has a proven track record in Europe, and is focused on broadening its portfolio.

Coca-Cola already has regulatory approval from Canadian and U.S. authorities, and analysts expect the deal to close swiftly. When it does, CCE will be out of the North American business, which it has inhabited since Coke formed the company from a collection of smaller bottlers in 1986.

Coca-Cola sells concentrate -- a super-strong syrup -- to CCE, which converts it into soft drinks and sells it to retailers. Over time, CCE towered over other Coke bottlers, accounting for 80 percent of bottle and can volume in North America. But the North American market grew increasingly difficult as carbonated soft drinks sales slumped.

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