Fraport expects zero passenger growth at Frankfurt hub

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German airport operator Fraport predicted zero growth in passenger numbers at its main Frankfurt hub this year and lower net profit as a weak economic climate prompts airlines to reduce capacity.

A man sits on a bench at the departure area at the Fraport airport in Frankfurt November 14, 2012. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Fraport, whose biggest customer is German flagship carrier Lufthansa LHAG.DE, said on Tuesday net profit would shrink this year from the 238 million euros reported for 2012.

The company said this reflected the impact of costs from a fourth runway opened in 2011 and expansion of one of two terminals at Frankfurt, Europe’s third-busiest airport by passenger numbers.

Fraport’s cautious outlook fell short of analysts’ expectations, which had looked for an increase in Frankfurt passenger numbers this year after the airport’s expansion.

Analysts in a Reuters poll had also forecast a rise in net income this year to 254 million euros.

“The macro-economic environment will also remain challenging in 2013,” Chief Executive Stefan Schulte said. He also cited burdens on the aviation industry from a planned European emissions trading scheme and from Germany’s air travel tax.

Fraport's shares fell 3.7 percent to 43.37 euros by 1040 GMT, one of the biggest fallers on the German midcap MDAX index .MDAXI, which was flat.

“I think they are very cautious after their harsh disappointment last year, when they had to lower their expectations for passenger growth by half,” said Equinet analyst Jochen Rothenbacher, who had estimated an increase in passenger numbers for 2013 of 1.5 percent.

DZ Bank analyst Robert Czerwensky said he had expected a 1 percent gain in passenger volume there this year.

CEO Schulte told journalists at a news conference that business had been “very good” so far in March and that an upturn in the economy could boost the number of travellers.

Airlines in Frankfurt plan to reduce flight movements by 1.4 percent in the European summer, Fraport said. Lufthansa, which accounts for more than 50 percent of Fraport’s business in Frankfurt, had reduced its capacity by 3 percent in its European winter schedule.

Fraport forecast earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) rising to between 870 million euros and 890 million euros from 850.7 million in 2012, missing analysts’ consensus forecast of 910 million euros.

For last year, Fraport reported a 6 percent rise in core profit (EBITDA), but its net profit fell by about 1 percent on financing costs as well as a slump in profit at its ground handling business.

The airport operator has made major investments to boost the number of passengers it handles at Frankfurt airport, driving up its interest costs by a quarter in 2012 and boosting net debt by 11 percent to 2.9 billion euros.

The Frankfurt investments weighed on earnings at Fraport’s aviation business, which generates about a third of group revenues but less than a quarter of operating profit.

The addition of 12,000 square metres of retail space at the expanded terminal boosted Fraport’s retail income. Net revenue per passenger at Frankfurt airport rose almost 5 percent.

As expected, Fraport will pay a dividend of 1.25 euros per share for 2012, unchanged from a year earlier. (Reporting by Maria Sheahan. Editing by Harro ten Wolde and Jane Merriman)