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Auto retailer Lookers expects 2021 profit to beat estimates

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(Reuters) -Auto retailer Lookers on Thursday forecast 2021 underlying profit before tax to be ahead of analysts' estimates, after the company reported better-than-expected quarterly sales boosted by its digital channels. 

  Lookers' shares rose about 9% in early trade on Thursday. 

  The company said first-quarter sales were underpinned by "click-and-drive" sales, through which customers could order vehicles online and pick it up from the dealerships. Dealerships remained closed for sales due to pandemic-related restrictions. 

  The company said it had sold over 44,000 new and used vehicles in the three months ending March 31, compared with 49,000 vehicles in the year-ago period. 

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  The group's dealerships in England will reopen on April 12 as part of the phased exit plan from COVID-19 restrictions announced by the government, Lookers said. 

  Analyst consensus for underlying profit before tax for the full year ended Dec. 31, 2021 is 22.6 million pounds ($31.11 million), the company said. 

  Last month, Lookers said it expects to report 2020 profit of about 10 million pounds amid a delay in publication of the annual results. 

  ($1 = 0.7265 pounds) 

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  (Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Amy Caren Daniel)