UPDATE 1-China's Ctrip Q1 soars, but quake worries weigh

Thu May 15, 2008 12:43am EDT

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BEIJING May 15 (Reuters) - China's top online travel agent, Ctrip.com (CTRP.O), beat forecasts with a 52 percent rise in quarterly net profit, but its shares slid 10 percent in after-hours trade amid fears over the impact of China's devastating earthquake.

Shanghai-based Ctrip.com maintained its 2008 revenue growth forecast of 35 percent, but said any impact from the quake in China's Sichuan province had yet to be determined.

"The impact can be significant," chief financial officer Jane Sun told an analysts' conference.

Sun said Sichuan travel accounted for less than 10 percent of the firm's business, but holiday makers' perceptions about safety may deter some from travelling for an extended period of time.

Shanghai-based Ctrip.com International Ltd said first-quarter earnings rose to $14.1 million, or 20 cents per American Depositary Share, compared to $8.4 million a year earlier. The 52 percent rise was based on yuan figures, which did not reflect the Chinese currency's appreciation during that time.

The result beat the $12.6 million forecast by Reuters Estimates.

The firm's Nasdaq-listed shares closed up 1.59 percent at $63.33 prior to the results, but reversed direction in after-hours trade, falling 9.6 percent to $57.27.

The stock is still up 77.2 percent in the past 12 months, while domestic rival eLong Inc (LONG.O), majority-owned by U.S. online travel company Expedia Inc (EXPE.O), has slipped 7.2 percent over the same period.

The company said revenue would expand by 30 percent in the current quarter, slightly less than its full-year forecast.

The day after Monday's quake the company said it would provide full refunds to customers travelling into or out of the main airport in Sichuan.

Analysts expect profits this year to grow 41 percent to $76.9 million, and revenue to rise 46 percent to $240.2 million, according to Reuters Estimates. But most analysts had not had time to factor in the impact from the quake.

Events such as the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 present opportunities for the firm to raise its profile with international travellers, but any boost to the bottom line is difficult to forecast, executives have said.

China's business travel market is estimated at about $10 billion, the world's fourth biggest, a segment Ctrip is focusing on for future growth.

The business traveller could account for as much as 5 percent of business next year, executives said. ($=6.98 yuan) (Reporting by Kirby Chien; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree)

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