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Coca-Cola to Buy North American Bottling Operations

NEW YORK -- The Coca-Cola Co. (Coke) plans to buy the North American operations of its largest bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. (CCE), in a substantially cashless deal that is expected to cut costs and increase flexibility in its distribution, according to a report by Reuters.

Coke said it would buy CCE's North American business, which consists of roughly 75 percent of its U.S. bottler-delivered sales volume and almost all of its Canadian bottler-delivered volume. Coke already owns roughly 34 percent of CCE. The acquisition includes consideration of Coke's current stake, $8.88 billion of CCE debt and all the North American assets and liabilities, the report stated.

In addition, the companies agreed in principle that CCE would buy Coke's bottling operations in Norway and Sweden for $822 million and have the right to acquire the soft-drink maker's 83-percent equity stake in its German bottling operations 18 to 36 months after closing for fair value.

Coke said it expected to generate cost savings of $350 million over four years and that the transactions, which are substantially cashless, should add to earnings by 2012.

A new entity that will keep the name Coca-Cola Enterprises will be created through a split-off that will hold CCE's European businesses. CCE will pay its shareholders, excluding Coke, a special one-time dividend of $10 per share.

Coke's announcement comes just as rival beverage giant PepsiCo Inc. is about to close its own $7.8 billion purchase of its largest bottlers, Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. and PepsiAmericas Inc., Reuters reported.

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