July 24, 2018 / 6:08 AM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-French company Edenred strikes confident tone after strong H1

* H1 EBIT 215 mln euros, up 14 pct like-for-like basis

* Eyes 2018 EBIT of 440-470 mln euros vs 429 mln in 2017

* Makes acquisition in Peru, eyes more deals (Adds CEO comments, details from call)

By Dominique Vidalon

PARIS, July 24 (Reuters) - French prepaid meal voucher and card provider group Edenred struck a confident tone on Tuesday, predicting it would beat annual growth goals for its key metrics this year.

Edenred, which competes with caterers Sodexo and Compass as well as credit card networks MasterCard and Visa, also forecast a further rise in full year 2018 operating profits after posting higher first half-profits.

The company said it would continue to deliver strong growth in the second half of the year in Europe and Brazil.

“We had a very good first-half that augurs well for the second half. We have full confidence in our prospects and we should outperform all our growth goals for the year in organic terms,” Chief Executive Bertrand Dumazy told a conference call.

The company, which helps firms manage staff expenses and is best known for its “Ticket Restaurant” vouchers, said earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) reached 215 million euros ($251 million) in the first half, a like-for-like rise of 14 percent, excluding currency impacts, acquisitions and divestments.

Revenue rose 10.1 percent to 665 million euros, reflecting strong sales in Europe and Latin America, as well as an improving economic environment in Brazil.

It also forecast EBIT between 440-470 million euros this year, against 429 million euros in 2017.

This compares with average market expectations of 456 million for full year EBIT, ThomsonReuters I/B/E/S data showed.

Edenred, which employs 8,000 people in 45 countries, sells prepaid meal vouchers that employers offer to workers.

Its development of products such as fuel cards also aims to tap into a sector that is growing faster than other parts of the employee benefits sector, as companies seek to control business expenses more effectively.

Edenred also announced on Tuesday the purchase of Peru-based Efectibono, an issuer of meal vouchers that will allow it to become a co-leader in the local employee benefits market.

Dumazy said Edenred remained on the prowl for acquisitions, including opportunities in Asia, and that it had the capacity to mobilise 1.5 billion euros to fund deals.

The group has annual medium-term objectives of like-for-like growth in operating revenue of more than 7 percent, operating EBIT growth of more than 9 percent, and growth in funds from operations of more than 10 percent. It expects to “substantially” outperform all these targets in 2018.

Edenred shares have risen 18 percent so far in 2018, beating a 1.23 percent rise on Paris’ SBF-120 index.

$1 = 0.8562 euros Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta

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