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Lastminute.com reported narrower losses today and said its outlook is good, bolstering the firm's drooping stock.

Though best known for the sale of holidays over the Net, the firm has become a kind of haven for last-minute shoppers in search of all sorts of goods, including lingerie, flowers and opera tickets. In its latest set of results, covering the fiscal first quarter ending 31 December 2003, the firm narrowed its losses to £1.1m before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, compared with a loss of £1.6m in the year-ago quarter.

Turnover during the quarter was approx £49m, compared with £12m a year ago, but well behind the £95m turnover figure from the quarter ending in September 2003. Total transaction value also slumped in the first quarter to £146.6m from £222.3m on a sequential basis, but was up compared to last year's £87m..

The sequential revenue and transaction value falls, along with tighter gross margins, were blamed on the traditional weakness the company experiences during the first quarter. "We expect to see sustained improvements throughout our business as we move forward during the remainder of the financial year," chairman Allan Leighton said.

the company said that the current quarter has started well and it predicts overall departure-based sales of approximately £160m. Gross margins should remain steady in the current quarter and will grow in second half of the fiscal year, Lastminute.com added. "Overall we anticipate that we will make significant progress in all metrics during the current financial year. However, we do remain vulnerable in all our markets to acts of terrorism," the e-tailer warned.

Leighton said that more acquisitions are in the works. In the last two months alone, the company has dipped into its £61.3m in cash reserves and purchased last-minute hotel agency First Option for £12.1m and UK hotel consolidator and package holiday reseller Med Hotels for £16.1m. The deals involved both cash and shares, and they follow on from a long history of acquisitions that dates back to the dot-com boom year of 2000, when the company went public.

Lastminute.com is due to launch an Irish site this spring, and it is expected that five people will be employed in the company's Irish office.

By mid-morning, Lastminute.com shares were up 6.5 per cent to £2.2025. The company's stock has underperformed the general retailers index in London by more than 40 per cent in the last three months.

© ENN

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