February 22, 2019 / 8:27 AM / 6 months ago

UPDATE 1-French company Edenred confident of strong growth in 2019

* Shares rise as 2018 EBIT reaches record of 461 mln euros

* 2018 revenue up 11.9 pct

* To pursue acquisitions in 2019 (Adds details from CEO call)

By Dominique Vidalon

PARIS, Feb 22 (Reuters) - French meal vouchers and card provider Edenred reported record earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) for 2018, and expressed confidence it would have strong growth in all regions and business lines this year.

Edenred, which helps firms manage staff expenses and benefits and is best known for its ‘Ticket Restaurant’ vouchers, also said it would pursue acquisitions this year.

“We are confident in our ability to generate sustainable and profitable growth in 2019,” Chairman and CEO Bertrand Dumazy told a conference call.

Edenred’s 2018 results benefited from growth in Europe and a recovery in Brazil, which counts for 30-35 percent of group earnings, and the company expected to achieve its annual organic growth targets, set for the medium-term again, in 2019.

Edenred, which competes with caterers Sodexo and Compass as well as credit card networks MasterCard and Visa, said 2018 earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) reached 461 million euros ($522.64 million), against 429 million in 2017.

That marked the strongest EBIT performance since the company was formed in 2010.

Overall group revenue reached 1.378 billion euros, an 11.9 percent rise on a like-for-like basis.

Edenred, which last year decided against buying a stake in French payments company Ingenico, recently bought U.S. firm Corporate Spending Innovations (CSI) for around $600 million.

Other recent takeovers include an 80 percent stake in The Right Fuelcard company group, as well as employee benefits firm Merits & Benefits.

“Our 2019 acquisition policy will be similar to that of 2018. We will focus on integrating recent purchases in the first half, so the second half will probably be more active,” said Dumazy.

Edenred, which employs 8,000 people in 45 countries, sells prepaid meal vouchers that employers offer to workers, but its development of products such as fuel cards aims to tap into a sector that is growing faster than other employee benefits as companies seek to control business expenses more effectively.

The company is also accelerating its shift from paper-based vouchers towards digital cards in order to cut costs.

At the end of 2018, digital solutions accounted for 80 percent of total business volume of 28.1 billion euros and was on track to meet the group’s target of 85 percent in 2020.

$1 = 0.8821 euros Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Rashmi Aich/Sudip Kar-Gupta

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