* Sales growth of 5.9 pct ahead of 4-5 pct forecast
* Nigeria, Russia to return to volume growth in ‘18
* Inflation in Europe gives chance to raise prices
* Shares up more than 3 pct (Adds details on outlook, pricing, share move)
By Martinne Geller
LONDON, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Drinks maker Coca-Cola HBC reported higher-than-expected full-year sales and profits on Wednesday, as improving economic conditions boosted sales volumes and prices.
The company, which sells Coca-Cola drinks in 28 countries mostly in Europe, said it expected the improvement to continue this year with “further economic growth and healthy inflation.”
“Europe, without Russia, is coming out of deflation to healthy levels of inflation, which going forward, will give us opportunities for incidental smart pricing,” Chief Executive Zoran Bogdanovic told reporters.
In Russia, he said he expected inflation to stay around the mid-single digit level, saying this would moderate pricing but could help volumes. In Nigeria, another big market for the bottler, inflation was expected to stay around the mid-teens, he said.
Still, the company expects higher volumes across its business, with Russia and Nigeria returning to volume growth.
The company’s shares were up 3.8 percent at 0844 GMT.
In 2017, sales grew 4.9 percent to 6.5 billion euros.
Excluding currency fluctuations, sales rose 5.9 percent, above the company’s mid-term target for growth of 4 to 5 percent. Volume rose 2.2 percent.
Comparable earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) rose 20 percent to 621 million euros, with comparable earnings per share up about 27 percent to 1.23 euros, ahead of analyst forecasts.
Bogdanovic, who took over as chief executive in December following the death of CEO Dimitris Lois, said there was a strong pipeline of product innovation and commercial activity lined up for 2018.
He declined to comment when asked about Coca-Cola’s plan to sell its African bottling assets, a process that started last year.
Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Edmund Blair