February 21, 2018 / 10:31 PM / 6 months ago

UPDATE 1-Australia's Flight Centre H1 earnings grow, flags stronger 2018

(Adds financial details, company background, executive comment, details on online competitor Webjet)

Feb 22 (Reuters) - Flight Centre Travel Group Ltd said on Thursday that first half-net profit rose 37 percent as it benefited from a pickup in its global businesses, particularly in the Americas.

Net profit for the six months to Dec. 31 rose to A$102.2 million ($79.74 million) from A$74.4 million, the company said.

Flight Centre lifted its full-year guidance for underlying profit before tax to the range of A$360 million to A$385 million from its initial target of a A$350 million to A$380 million.

“While Australia was again the largest contributor to group results, FLT’s overseas businesses predominantly drove overall growth,” said Managing Director Graham Turner.

Flight Centre has been building its online presence to cut costs and chase new sales prospects after years of aggressive price discounting led to a string of profit downgrades in recent years.

The company said it would focus on digital commerce growth as part of a transformation program, and said it was targeting cost growth of less than A$100 million for the year.

Smaller online rival Webjet Ltd, which does not have the shopfront overheads of Flight Centre, meanwhile reported a 48 percent fall in first-half earnings on Thursday.

The company declared an interim dividend of 60 cents per share, up from 45 cents a year ago. ($1 = 1.2817 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru Editing by Alison Williams and Matthew Lewis)

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