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UPDATE 2-Hearing aid maker Sonova expects to return to growth in second half

* Sonova is world’s biggest hearing aid maker

* Company says sales recovering faster than expected

* U.S. market been slow to recover as many centres shut

* Sonova shares jump 9.2% after company’s update (Adds CEO comments from call)

By Zuzanna Szymanska

Sept 28 (Reuters) - Sonova, the world’s biggest hearing aid maker, said on Monday it expects revenue to return to growth in the next six months as its recovery from the impact of the pandemic is progressing faster than expected.

The coronavirus pandemic hit hearing aid makers in the first six months of 2020 as social distancing measures prevented many people from seeing their doctor or audiologist.

Switzerland-based Sonova expects revenues for April-September, the first half of its financial year, to be around 79% of the previous year’s level and to return to growth in the second half as business picks up in its major markets, it said.

Sonova shares jumped 9.2% in early trading after the company’s update, making it the biggest gainer on Switzerland’s mid cap index.

The company said the Asia-Pacific region continued to lead its recovery in July-September, its second quarter, with 4% sales growth at constant exchange rates, followed by Europe at about prior-year levels.

“By now, pretty much all European countries are faring reasonably well and some are growing,” Chief Executive Arnd Kaldowski told Reuters.

In the United States, sales were close to 10% lower than the same time last year as the country has been very cautious in re-opening hearing aid fitting centres, Kaldowski said.

For the full fiscal year ending in March 31, 2021, Sonova said it expected sales would be 92%-94% of the previous year’s level, while adjusted earnings before interest, tax and amortisation (EBITA) should match that of 2019/2020.

The company’s previous forecast, published in early July, was for first-half revenues at 65-75% of last year’s level and a return to profitability in the next financial year.

Shares in Sonova have been gradually picking up after plunging 25% in March when the impact of the pandemic hit. In July, the company said it would cut jobs and close some stores to reduce costs.

Reporting by Zuzanna Szymanska in Gdansk; Editing by Kim Coghill and Susan Fenton

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