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Caterer Elior soars as sales beat, new outlook reassure investors

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Europe's third-largest catering group Elior is seen on top of the company's headquarters in the financial and business district in La Defense at Courbevoie near Paris, France

By Federica Mileo and Diana Mandia

(Reuters) -French caterer Elior beat sales expectations on Wednesday and forecast a quick return to profitable growth after a third straight annual loss, sending its shares up 10%.

Alphavalue analyst Yi Zhong said the update should be enough to ease investor concerns after a discouraging forecast from the world's largest catering group Compass on Monday.

Elior, like peers Compass and Sodexo, is renegotiating rates and supplier pacts, reining in costs and cutting menu options to cope with rising energy and food prices.

Europe's third-biggest contract caterer said it had renegotiated 67% of its contracts by Sept. 30, but in France only 20% of the total price increases were reflected in annual results, mainly due to more complex negotiations with public sector customers.

"There's no way we're going to sit back and wait for things to happen," the firm's communications director, Anne-Laure Descleves, told reporters, saying the group was asking for an average price increase of 9%, and sometimes as high as 15%.

Elior posted revenue of 4.45 billion euros ($4.59 billion) for the year to the end of September, beating analysts' forecast of 4.38 billion, while its adjusted core loss (EBITA) narrowed to 48 million, in line with estimates.

Bernstein analysts underscored a "much needed stable quarter", saying revenue was "largely in line with the beats shown by other caterers and reflects inflation is being passed".

Elior forecast organic revenue growth of at least 8% for fiscal 2022/23, with a positive adjusted EBITA margin of between 1.5% and 2% next year and above pre-pandemic levels in 2024.

Chairman and Chief Executive Bernard Gault said the group was gaining customers and pointed to a record high retention rate of 93.2%.

($1=0.9700 euros)

(Reporting by Diana Mandiá and Federica Mileo in Gdansk; Editing by Milla Nissi and Clarence Fernandez)