UPDATE 2-Lufthansa restores dividend as revamp bears fruit

Thu Mar 13, 2014 5:51am EDT

Related Topics

* Q4 opg profit 36 mln eur vs Rtrs poll avg 13.7 mln

* 2013 dividend 0.45 eur/share vs poll avg 0.16 eur/share

* Says SCORE still on track to boost results by 1.5 bln

* Shares rise 7.7 pct to highest since 2007 (Adds details on outlook, share price, analyst comment)

By Victoria Bryan

FRANKFURT, March 13 (Reuters) - Lufthansa, Germany's largest airline, restored its dividend payout and forecast operating profit would rise more than expected this year, as cost cutting and restructuring at its passenger business bear fruit.

Shares in the group jumped almost 8 percent in early Thursday trading to their highest level since the end of 2007.

Lufthansa, which also runs cargo, catering, maintenance and IT operations, is aiming to increase operating profit for 2015 by 1.5 billion euros ($2.1 billion) compared with 2011 via its SCORE restructuring programme.

The vast majority of the measures, such as expanding its Germanwings low-cost carrier and introducing a premium economy class on Lufthansa long-haul flights, are being carried out at its passenger airlines business, which is facing stiff competition from low-cost carriers and fast-growing rivals such as Emirates and Turkish Airlines.

Progress on the plan, started in 2012, was previously held back by the continuing slow economy in Europe and fuel costs.

The group said on Thursday operating profit at its Lufthansa and Germanwings carriers together rose 240 million euros to reach 265 million euros in 2013 thanks to the programme.

"All business segments are profitable," Chief Financial Officer Simone Menne told journalists.

At 0945 GMT, Lufthansa shares were up 6 percent at 19 euros, the biggest rise by a European blue-chip stock

"In terms of outlook, management has struck an optimistic tone," Goodbody analyst Donal O'Neill said in a note to clients.

Lufthansa expects reported operating profit to rise to between 1.3 billion and 1.5 billion euros in 2014, compared with the average forecast for 1.14 billion in a Reuters poll.

Adjusted for the costs of restructuring gives a range of between 1.7 and 1.9 billion euros.

"We are unlikely to move our estimates materially, but we believe there is scope for significant upgrades from the market for 2014 and 2015 as it gets more comfortable with Lufthansa's ability to generate cost savings through SCORE," O'Neill said.

AIRCRAFT LIFE

The 2013 results are the final ones to be presented by CEO Christoph Franz, who hands over to Carsten Spohr in May. Spohr previously headed the passenger airlines business, and has been instrumental in the cost-cutting measures.

CFO Menne said that while the economy was improving, competition remained tough, meaning the improved results were mainly down to the SCORE programme.

Yields, a measure of pricing, fell 4 percent in the fourth quarter when unadjusted for currency effects and are expected to be negative in 2014, according to presentation slides.

Lufthansa swung to a better-than-expected operating profit of 36 million euros in the quarter on revenues of 7.26 billion euros. It said it would propose paying a dividend of 0.45 euros a share for 2013, higher than the average expected payout of 0.16 euros a share.

The group did not pay a dividend on 2012 results.

Lufthansa also said it was changing the way it wrote down the value of its aircraft, with the depreciation period now 20 years instead of 12. That brings it into line with rivals like British Airways owner IAG and Air France.

That would artificially boost profits, but had no effect on the group's underlying strength, Menne said.

The move will increase operating profit by 350 million euros in 2015, and so the group has lifted its overall target for that year by a corresponding amount to 2.65 billion euros.

($1 = 0.7192 euros) (Additional reporting by Peter Maushagen; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Mark Potter)

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