May 9, 2014 / 11:46 AM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 2-Hilton raises forecast as business, leisure travel pick up

* First qtr profit more than quadruples to $123 mln

* First qtr RevPAR rises 6.6 pct

* Co raises FY profit forecast to $0.64-$0.67/share from $0.57-$061

* Shares rise as much as 3.6 pct in early trade (Adds shares, details on debt, analyst comment)

By Rohit T. K.

May 9 (Reuters) - Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc raised its full-year profit forecast after increasing business and leisure travel in the United States allowed the company to charge more for its rooms in the first quarter.

Hilton’s shares were up 3.6 percent in early trading on Friday, after the company also reported better-than-expected quarterly results.

Hilton, the world’s largest hotel operator by market value, said it now expects a full-year profit of 64-67 cents per share, up from its earlier forecast of 57-61 cents.

Rising consumer confidence in a recovering U.S. economy has boosted the travel industry, allowing hotels to raise room rates.

Hilton’s first-quarter revenue per available room (RevPAR) increased 6.6 percent at hotels open for at least a year.

The hotelier, whose brands include Conrad and Waldorf Astoria, said it expects RevPAR to rise 5.5-6.5 percent in the second quarter.

RevPAR is calculated by multiplying a hotel’s average daily room rate by its occupancy rate.

“There’s never been a better time in lodging,” Macquarie Research analyst Chad Beynon said.

“(The industry is) back to peak occupancy. It’s a very healthy place in the cycle right now. We would expect greater increases in pricing,” Beynon added.

Hilton’s total occupancy rose to 69.8 percent in the quarter from 67.9 percent last year.

Marriott International Inc, Hyatt Hotels Corp and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc have also reported better-than-expected first-quarter earnings and announced plans to return cash to shareholders through stock buybacks.

Hilton, which went public last December, did not announce any stock repurchase plans on Friday.

Beynon said he did not expect the company to buy back shares until it had repaid some of its debt.

“Their goal right now is to reduce leverage ... and once they get closer to investment grade debt, that’s when I think they would look to buy back stock,” he said.

Hilton had debt of about $12.5 billion as of March 31.

The company’s net income attributable to shareholders rose to $123 million, or 12 cents per share, from $34 million, or 3 cents per share, a year earlier.

On an adjusted basis, Hilton earned 13 cents per share.

Revenue rose 4 percent to $2.36 billion.

Analysts on average expected a profit of 9 cents per share on revenue of $2.34 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company, founded in 1919 by Conrad Hilton, has 4,155 hotels with nearly 700,000 rooms. Its IPO raised more than $2.3 billion in what was the second-largest offering in 2013.

Blackstone Group LP, which had taken Hilton private in 2007, has a 76 percent stake in the company.

Hilton’s shares, which have gained about 5 percent since their debut, were trading up 2.5 percent at $23.20 on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Rohit T. K. in Bangalore; Editing by Simon Jennings)

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