Lastminute.com 'on its way to profitability'

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The Independent Online

Onetime dot com darling lastminute.com said today it was on course to meet City expectations and turn in a profit within the next three years.

Onetime dot com darling lastminute.com said today it was on course to meet City expectations and turn in a profit within the next three years.

The online travel store's float earlier this year marked the highwater mark of the boom in tech shares, with confidence in the sector ebbing after the share price started an immediate slide.

Today it posted its first full-year results since the float and said it was confident of becoming "cash-flow positive" by the end of 2002 - in line with analysts' forecasts.

Profits were expected to follow the year after.

Lastminute made a gross profit of £3.3 million for the year to 30 September, but registered a pre-tax loss of £35.7 million, compared with a loss of £4.5 million at the same point last year.

The full-year figures showed, however, that the amount of business carried through the company's websites continues to grow, alongside the number of registered subscribers.

Goods and services totalling £13.2 million were sold in the fourth quarter of the year - an increase of 38% on the previous three-month period.

During the year as a whole, the company sold goods and services totalling £34.2 million, compared with £2.6 million last time.

The number of people receiving a weekly email updates of the offers available shot up to almost three million over the course of the year, against 364,750, with two-thirds based in the UK.

The company's actual customer-base - people who have bought from the sites - climbed to more than 156,000.

Lastminute co-founder Martha Lane Fox said the aim was now to convert more of the registered subscribers into loyal customers.

The company's acquisition of France's largest e-travel group Degriftour, completed in October, helped to increase lastminute's supplier base three-fold in the fourth quarter of the year to 9,221.

And this week it launches websites in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. Ms Fox said further acquisitions could be made if the right company was available for the right price.

The results went down well in the City, with lastminute's share price rising nearly 8% - 5p - to 77p by mid-morning.

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