Switzerland's largest travel group, Kuoni, has reported an increase in net profits of almost a third. But the figures were below expectations and masked a weak performance in its European business unit.
Net profit last year rose 32 per cent at SFr115.1 million ($68 million) and the company proposed increasing its dividend from SFr11 to SFr12 per share. Sales over the year increased 17 per cent to SFr3.5 billion.
Analysts were disappointed that the net profit figure failed to meet expectations of around SFr120 million for 2000.
The increase in profit last year was largely due to the absence of special charges after a write-off in 1999 for a failed merger project with British travel group, First Choice Holidays.
Kuoni said on Wednesday that 2000 had been difficult, especially in its European division, which does not include Switzerland or Britain. The unit made an operating loss of SFr3.3 million last year compared to a profit of SFr17.1 million in 1999.
The company said in a statement that the dramatic decline is mainly due to unsatisfactory performances in Denmark, Italy and Austria "where corrective action has been taken".
However, Kuoni added that its Spanish unit succeeded in turning its business round while Kuoni France had a record year.
The travel group has expressed confidence about the outlook for 2001, but warned that forecasts at this stage of the year are difficult because most reservations are made in the second half.
"The first signs of the new business year give reasons to be optimistic," Kuoni said, adding bookings were up in Switzerland, Britain, France, Scandinavia and incoming from Japan.
"Thanks to the wide spread of the country and activity portfolio...management are confident about the current year."
swissinfo with agencies