Norwegian Air swings to surprise second quarter net profit

OSLO (Reuters) - Fast-growing budget airline Norwegian Air Shuttle NWC.OL beat expectations with a second-quarter net profit on Thursday as it controlled costs better than expected at a time when its transatlantic expansion is peaking.

FILE PHOTO: A Norwegian Air Shuttle Boeing 737-800 at Berlin Schoenefeld Airport April 2, 2015. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski/File Photo

Europe’s third-largest budget airline by passenger numbers is trying to crack the transatlantic market by undercutting established rivals, but has faced pressures to control costs and shore up its balance sheet in the face of competition.

The company posted a net profit of 300 million crowns (28.06 million pounds)in the second quarter, compared with a loss of 691 million crowns a year earlier.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a loss of 535 million crowns.

Shares in Norwegian Air rose on the news, trading up 6.74 percent at 0902 GMT versus an Oslo benchmark index .OSEBX down 0.56 percent. "Revenues came in line with expectations, while costs improved more than anticipated and this was the main reason for the earnings beat," said Pareto Securities analyst Kenneth Sivertsen, who holds a "Buy" recommendation on the stock.

The company’s unit costs, including depreciation and excluding fuel, fell to 0.29 crowns from 0.35 crowns a year earlier, helped by lower wet lease costs -- hiring spare aircraft and crew when needed -- and lower technical costs, it said.

It said it plans $1.75 billion in capital expenditure this year, down from a previous view of $1.9 billion.

“As the company is now at the peak in terms of capacity ramp-up and growth will slow markedly onwards, we expect ticket price pressure to abate and costs to continue improving,” said Pareto’s Sivertsen.

One exception will be the opening of a new long-haul base in Copenhagen, the hub of Nordic rival SAS SAS.ST.

“This is a frontal attack on SAS, where they are really strong,” said Sydbank analyst Jacob Pedersen. “It will increase the competition in and out of Copenhagen and it will also drain some crowns from SAS.”

Norwegian Air in recent weeks has rebuffed takeover advances by British Airways parent firm IAG ICAG.L. On Thursday, CEO and founder Bjoern Kjos reiterated it was too early to sell.

Kjos and Norwegian Air Chairman Bjoern Kise are the top shareholders in Norwegian Air via HBK Invest Holding which owns around a quarter of the company.

“If we consider to sell, I think it is too early for shareholders,” Kjos told Reuters. “We haven’t even fulfilled our expansion this year. We should go into harvesting mode, so shareholders see what comes out of it.”

The firm’s shares have gained 26 percent this year helped by IAG’s interest in the company.

Additional reporting by Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen; editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Jason Neely