Lastminute still on the acquisition trail

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The Independent Online

Lastminute.com, the online retailer, has reiterated its thirst for acquisitions as it reported significantly lower full-year losses.

Lastminute.com, the online retailer, has reiterated its thirst for acquisitions as it reported significantly lower full-year losses.

But the former New Economy star refused to be drawn on its interest in MyTravel, the struggling tour operator that is being circled by a number of prospective bidders.

Lastminute, which sells holidays, theatre tickets and hotel bookings, said it had notched up its first pre-tax profit in the fourth quarter, as flagged in a trading update. Before exceptional items and goodwill amortisation, Lastminute made a pre-tax profit of £300,000 against an equivalent loss of £7.4m for the three months to end-September.

This plunged to a loss for the quarter of £9.5m after exceptional items relating to a number of recent acquisitions, compared with a loss of £11m a year earlier.

Martha Lane Fox, the managing director, said: "We have bought four companies in the last four months. I think that's a fairly aggressive acquisition programme. We will continue to be acquisitive. We have got ideas up our sleeve but we have got to make those work."

Asked about the potential for a tie-up with its rival ebookers, she said: "We would need a very good reason to buy a predominantly flights business based in the UK. We are pan-European. Their model is not one that fits with ours."

Analysts said the main sales driver next year would be the group's move to "dynamic packaging". This allows customers to build their own holiday by choosing flights, hotels and events, without the price of each element of the package being disclosed.

Lastminute reported full-year losses of £38m against £53.7m a year earlier. It cut its cash burn from £58m in 2001 to £3m in 2002 and reported a cash inflow of £400,000 in the fourth quarter. Turnover nearly doubled to £35m. Its shares fell 5p to 111.5p.

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