TUI AG narrows loss as tourists return to N Africa
* Q2 underlying EBITA loss 224 mln eur vs poll avg 245 mln euro
* Says demand for North Africa stabilised
* Says Greece suffering as Germans avoid holidays there
* Confirms outlook for slight rise in operating profit
* Shares up 0.1 percent vs 0.8 pct fall in MDax
By Victoria Bryan
FRANKFURT, May 10 (Reuters) – German travel and tourism group TUI AG said demand for holidays in North Africa was recovering, as it reported a smaller than expected second-quarter loss.
“The situation in Tunisia is especially encouraging, but we are seeing some pick-up in Egypt too,” Chief Financial Officer Horst Baier told analysts on Thursday.
Tour operators such as Europe’s largest TUI Travel, controlled by TUI AG, and Thomas Cook were hit hard last year as European tourists shied away from North African destinations like Tunisia and Egypt following uprisings.
Tourists are now returning, though numbers are not expected to recover to pre-uprising levels until next year or even longer for Egypt.
Tour operators are also battling a drop of around 30 percent in bookings to Greece from Germans, the world’s biggest spenders on foreign holidays, who have been put off by anti-German sentiment following the country’s financial bailout.
“I regret this situation very much and I really cross my fingers that people are coming back and decide to book a holiday in Greece,” Baier said.
TUI AG reported a second quarter loss of 224 million euros ($289.7 million), compared with expectations for a loss of 245 million euros in a Reuters poll.
Travel companies traditionally post a loss over the period, with profits only coming as payments arrive for summer holidays.
It confirmed an outlook for moderate turnover growth and a slight improvement in underlying earnings before interest, tax and amortisation (EBITA) for the fiscal year to end-September.
It said this would be driven by TUI Travel, which on Wednesday said it expected a strong summer showing, and higher prices and occupancy at TUI AG’s own hotels and resorts division.
Shares in TUI, which lost 37 percent of their value over the last 12 months as austerity-hit customers cut back on holidays, were down 0.2 percent at 1049 GMT. The shares currently trade on 7.5 times forward earnings, compared with a multiple of 8.8 for Swiss peer Kuoni and 2.6 for debt-ridden Thomas Cook.
TUI AG wants to focus solely on its tourism operations and is in the midst of a complicated plan to exit its remaining 39 percent stake in shipping company Hapag-Lloyd, which on Thursday said high bunker prices resulted in an operating loss of almost 100 million euros in its first quarter.
CFO Baier said TUI AG was evaluating all its options, including an initial public offering – which it may call from July 1 – or a sale of its stake to third parties.
Echoing Hapag-Lloyd’s management, Baier said TUI AG would wait for a clear improvement in the shipping industry and stable capital markets before taking another swing at a flotation.
WestLB analysts said on Thursday they did not expect an IPO before the end of the year.