Greece's biggest firm leaves, jobless rate soars


* German economic experts urge new debt restructuring

* Greece's biggest company, bottler CCH, quits forSwitzerland

* IMF backs giving Athens two more years to meet debt target By Harry Papachristou and Matt Robinson

ATHENS, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Greece's jobless rate topped 25percent and its biggest company said it would quit the countryon Thursday in a fresh blow to an economy that German expertswarned cannot be "saved" without writing off more debt.

The announcement by drinks bottler Coca Cola Hellenic (CCH)

that it was switching its primary listing from Athensto London, and moving its corporate base to stable, low-taxSwitzerland, is a bitter blow to the debt-crippled nation.

The firm, which bottles Coke and other drinks in 28countries from Russia to Nigeria, is Greece's biggest by marketvalue and is 23 percent owned by The Coca-Cola Co of theUnited States. It said its Greek plants would be unaffected.

CCH's announcement coincided with data that showed Greekunemployment climbing for a 35th consecutive month in July to25.1 percent from a revised 24.8 percent in June. The joblessrate has more than tripled since the country's now five-year-oldrecession began.

Fifty-four percent of Greeks aged 15-24 years are out ofwork, fuelling violent protests against the tax hikes, spendingcuts and public sector job losses demanded by the European Unionand International Monetary Fund in exchange for more than 200billion euros ($258.03 billion) in loans since 2010.

Greece is still far off target.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde, speaking in Tokyo, backed callsto give the country two more years, up to 2016, to cut its debtmountain to 120 percent of GDP from 165 percent in 2011.

The IMF is also pressing official lenders such as euro zonepaymaster Germany to take a "haircut" on their Greek debtsimilar to that swallowed by private bondholders this year.

With elections in 2013, Berlin is resisting, but Germany'sleading economic institutes warned on Thursday that withoutfurther debt restructuring, the Greek economy would not make it.

"Yes, we don't think Greece can be saved," Joachim Scheide,head of forecasting at the Kiel-based IfW institute, said whenasked whether investors in Greek debt would have to acceptanother haircut.

"We need a restructuring of Greek debt; that would helpGreece best," he said.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was greeted with angryprotests on Tuesday on her first visit to Greece since the debtcrisis erupted, opposes any further restructuring, at leastuntil after Germans vote next September.

Her visit came as the Greek government is locked in talkswith its "troika" of international lenders on more austeritymeasures to secure a next tranche of loans worth 31.5 billioneuros. Without further aid, Athens says it will run out of moneyby the end of next month.

Data released by the finance ministry showed Greece hadnarrowed its central government budget deficit by 37 percent inthe first nine months of the year.

But the figures did not include spending on localmunicipalities and social security - the areas of most concernfor the troika, which comprises the IMF, the European Union'sexecutive Commission and the European Central Bank.

Even after steep tax hikes, net government revenue stagnatedat 36.7 billion euros, or 1.3 billion euros short of an interimtarget set under the bailout plan.

Private businesses say the tax hikes are suffocating them.Coca Cola Hellenic had complained about the high tax measures,and on Thursday said it was relocating.

Its Greek operations, which account for five percent of itsbottling business, will be unaffected, but the move was bad newsfor a nation struggling to compete inside the euro zone.

Chief executive Dimitris Lois said the decision to switchthe company's primary listing to London and its corporate baseto Switzerland made "clear business sense".

Its move follows Greek dairy group FAGE's relocation toLuxembourg this month.

"This is a healthy company that does not want to suffer fromGreece's high country risk," said an analyst, who spoke oncondition of anonymity.($1 = 0.7751 euros)

(Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris, Annika Breidthardtand Michelle Martin in Berlin; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editingby Catherine Evans)

((matt.robinson@thomsonreuters.com)(Reuters Messaging:matt.robinson.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: GREECE/