4 Min Read
* Sees full-year profit growth of at least 10 pct
* Q3 underlying operating profit 76 mln stg
* Bookings down 2 pct, dragged lower by France, Germany
* UK booking volumes and prices up
* Shares down 4.5 pct after hitting record high Tuesday (Adds CEO, analyst, comment, shares, details)
By Rhys Jones
LONDON, Aug 7 (Reuters) - TUI Travel, the world's largest tour operator, expects to grow profits by at least 10 percent this financial year, boosted by the popularity of fixed-price holidays among budget conscious Europeans.
The company, which owns the Thomson and First Choice brands, said on Wednesday 2013 summer booking volumes in Britain were up 4 percent, with average selling prices 7 percent higher.
However, total bookings were down 2 percent, hit by weakness in Germany and France, which fell 5 and 22 percent respectively.
TUI Travel shares, which have risen a fifth in the last three months, were down 4.5 percent to 383.3 pence by 0830 GMT, valuing the group at around 4.2 billion pounds ($6.5 billion).
The stock hit record high Of 405.1 pence on Tuesday and traders attributed Wednesday's fall to profit taking, with Panmure analyst Simon French blaming "an earnings upgrade which hasn't materialised".
TUI Travel, formed in 2007 through a merger between First Choice Holidays and the Thomson tourism unit of German group TUI , said last year it expected to report compound annual profit growth of at least 7 percent over the next five years.
However, it raised expectations in May, saying it was experiencing its strongest summer booking season in six years.
The group, which owns six European airlines including Britain's Thomson Airways, posted an underlying operating profit of 76 million pounds for the three months ended June, its fiscal third quarter.
It said 84 percent of its summer 2013 holidays were already sold, similar to the same period last year, with all-inclusive package holidays especially popular.
"Given our current position we remain very confident of achieving full year underlying operating profit growth of at least 10 percent on a constant currency basis," Chief Executive Peter Long told reporters.
The company also said it had also made an encouraging start to the 2013/14 winter season, with 21 percent of its winter programme already sold.
But it noted differences between markets.
"Consumer confidence in the UK is looking much more positive than it has ... and much better than in France, for example, which I think is likely to remain weak," said Long.
Britain and Germany both account for around a third of TUI Travel's annual revenues while France and the Nordic region each account for roughly 10 percent of sales
Following the third-quarter figures, analysts expect TUI Travel to post a full-year operating profit of around 560 million pounds, up from 490 million the year before, according to a Reuters poll of four brokerages.
TUI Travel, whose quarterly revenues rose 5 percent to 3.86 billion pounds, said 47 percent of its sales were now made online, up from 45 percent a year ago.
Rival travel group Thomas Cook last week reported its first third-quarter profit since staving off bankruptcy in 2011 and said it had sold 85 percent of its planned capacity for the summer 2013 season.
$1 = 0.6500 British pounds Editing by Kate Holton and Mark Potter