Daily Express

EasyJet set for payouts lift-off

- 9p ;Xm`[ J_Xe[

EASYJET denied giving in to pressure from major shareholde­r Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou as it signalled more of its profits would be paid out in dividends despite falling into the red in the first half.

The budget airline said plans to raise its payout from 40 per cent to 50 per cent of post-tax earnings demonstrat­ed its confidence in future prospects.

Healthy demand for skiing trips to the likes of Geneva and beach holidays in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece is keeping the firm on course to hit annual profit forecasts of £721million.

A £46million currency hit from a strong pound led to easyJet posting a £24million pre-tax interim loss compared with £7million profit last year.

It also cut prices to lift bookings following terror attacks in Paris and Brussels. This cut revenue per seat 6.6 per cent to £51.29.

Sir Stelios, whose family own a third of the airline, has been a longstandi­ng critic of easyJet’s “scattergun approach” to dividends and failed to block an £8billion order for new aircraft which he described as a vanity exercise. Chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall, above, said Sir Stelios had been saying this for six years. She added: “It would not have had an impact on the decision today. We talk to all our shareholde­rs and we have done what is right for the airline now.

“This was a robust financial performanc­e during the half year despite the well publicised external events. Consumers have enjoyed lower fares, which have decreased by 6 per cent year-on-year, the second successive year of falling fares as lower fuel cost benefits are passed on.”

A Sir Stelios spokesman said: “Stelios has been pressing for a progressiv­e dividend policy for a number of years to get to a 50 per cent payout. This is clearly good news for all shareholde­rs, big or small.”

Dame Carolyn said there would be more consolidat­ion among airlines but declined to comment on speculatio­n easyJet might buy rival Monarch.

EasyJet expects the European shorthaul market to grow by 28.2 million seats or 5.3 per cent year-on-year in the six months to September 30, driven by low fuel costs and improved economic conditions. Its shares rose 40p to 1510p.

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