Australia's Virgin Blue H1 net soars 80.9 pct on rise in passengers, yields

Sydney (XFN-ASIA) - Australia's second largest airline,Virgin

Blue Holdings Ltd, said its first half to December net profit jumped 80.9 pct

to 124.3 mln aud as it carried more passengers and lifted the yield per passenger.

The strong result was well ahead of analysts' expectations of a net profit of about 100 mln aud for the first six months.

Virgin, now 62.3 pct owned by Toll Holdings Ltd, forecast further growth as it expands its domestic services and starts long-haul international services in the second half of 2008.

It said full year to June net profit is now expected to be about 60 pct above last year's 112 mln aud result, up from the 40 pct rise in net profit which it had forecast in December.

Virgin said the revised forecast reflects its increasing penetration of the business traveller and government travel markets in Australia and the uptake of new products and services.

It said earnings have also been helped by a new fuel hedging position, with 95 pct of fuel requirements capped at 70 usd a barrel (West Texas Intermediate) for the remainder of the current June fiscal year.

Total first half revenue increased 16.7 pct from previous first half to 1.12 bln aud, with yield increasing by 9.3 pct to 0.1168 aud per seat.

The airline's load factor rose 2.3 points from the previous first half to 82.2 pct.

Total operating costs rose 9.1 pct from the previous first half to 935 mln aud, reflecting the increase in services as well as escalating fuel prices.

Virgin said it has commenced negotiations with Boeing Corp to acquire seven Boeing 777-300ER aircraft at a total list price of 2.6 bln usd, and options for a further six aircraft for use by its planned international long haul airline.

Shareholders will receive an interim dividend of 0.02 aud a share. An interim dividend was not paid last year.

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