UPDATE 1-Moneysupermarket benefits as Brits hunt for deals

Wed Apr 18, 2012 3:52am EDT

* Q1 internet revenue up 14 pct, EBITDA up 12 pct

* Says Q2 revenue and profitability rates stronger

* Revenues at Money unit up 22 pct, down 11 pct at Travel unit

* Shares down 1.4 pct

LONDON, April 18 (Reuters) - Price comparison website Moneysupermarket.com Group said its money and insurance segments had made a strong start to the year, boosting earnings and off-seting a slowdown in travel by cash-strapped Britons.

The company said first quarter internet revenue was 14 percent higher than a year earlier and core earnings were 12 percent ahead, ensuring the company performed in line with the board's expectations during the period.

Moneysupermarket, whose website had 140 million visitors last year, also said on Wednesday that it had made a good start to the second quarter of the year with revenue and profitability rates both up relative to the first three months of the year.

With British disposable incomes squeezed by rising prices, muted wage growth and government austerity measures, Moneysupermarket has benefited from shoppers actively looking for promotional deals to make their money go further.

The company said revenues from its Money unit, where consumers can compare banking products such as credit cards and mortgages, were particularly strong, rising 22 percent versus last year after a 20 percent jump in visitor volumes.

Moneysupermarket said its insurance division also performed well, with revenues up 13 percent on the back of a 9 percent rise in visitor numbers. It described revenues at its Home Services unit, where people can compare utility prices, as being fractionally higher.

However, the travel segment, which has struggled over the past year, continues to decline with fewer holiday makers seeking deals on the website. Revenues and visitor numbers both fell 11 percent as a result of weak consumer spending on discretionary items that has also seen big travel operators such as Thomas Cook suffer.

The company said, however, that its new package holidays channel was performing well.

"MoneySupermarket.com has made a good start to 2012. We have seen solid growth in our Money and Insurance businesses as consumers continue to use us to make their money go further," said Peter Plumb, chief executive of Moneysupermarket.

Visitor numbers for the website across all the segments were 15 percent higher than the first quarter of 2011.

"Momentum continues to build and this update provides further evidence to support the structural market growth opportunity and medium term scope for progression," Mark Fleetwood, analyst at N+1 Brewin, said in a note to clients.

Fleetwood said his forecasts were unchanged following the statement but that he had changed his rating on Moneysupermarket shares to "hold" from "add" and stuck with a 140 pence price target following a recent strong run for the stock.

Shares in the company, which had gained 29 percent since the start of the year, were down 1.4 percent at 133.8 pence by 0739 GMT, slightly underperforming a 0.1 percent weaker FTSE 250 index.

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