UPDATE 1-Autogrill sales pick up after 2013 profit drop

Thu Mar 13, 2014 10:44am EDT

MILAN, March 13 (Reuters) - Italian airport and motorway restaurant operator Autogrill said sales were starting to pick up this year as road traffic stabilises and air traffic rises, after a drop in revenue and profit in 2013.

Autogrill, whose roadside restaurant business was hit hard by Italy's longest recession in sixty years, on Thursday said sales at its domestic motorway business rose 0.9 percent in the first nine weeks of the year, a trend that looks set to continue.

This echoed Italian highway group Atlantia, which said last week that motorway traffic had begun to stabilise in January and February, after a 1.6 percent drop across its Italian network in 2013.

Autogrill, which makes just under one third of its sales in Italy, said revenue in European countries outside Italy rose 8.5 percent in the first nine weeks of 2014, while its business in North America and the Pacific area grew 4.9 percent.

Autogrill's shares were up 3.4 percent at 1441 GMT on Thursday, outperforming Milan's blue-chip index.

Autogrill said it would not pay a dividend on 2013 earnings, but would invest profits back into the company, which spun off its smaller but growing World Duty Free unit in October, and would a focus on increasing Autogrill's North American sales.

Its core earnings fell 4.1 percent to 314 million euros ($437 million) in 2013, compared with its own guidance of around 315 million euros and a Thomson Reuters SmartEstimate of 311 million euros.

Sales fell 2.2 percent to 3.98 billion euros. A rise in revenue from airports and train stations helped offset a slump in the motorway business, the company said.