LONDON -- Shares of Ryanair  dropped 0.10 euros, or 2%, to 5.40 euros during early London trading this morning, even as the Irish airline revealed that its third-quarter profits had soared 21%.

Ryanair, which claims to be "Europe's only ultra-low cost carrier," said earnings had increased from 14.9 million euros to 18.1 million euros during October, November, and December. A 3% gain in passenger numbers to 17.3 million and an 8% rise in the average fare price helped revenues advance 15% to 969 million euros.

The third-quarter performance ensured Ryanair's nine-month results showed turnover up 15% to 4,075 million euros and earnings up 10% to 614 million euros.


Ryanair's chief executive, Michael O'Leary, said:

"Our Q3 profit of 18 million euros was ahead of expectations due to strong pre-Christmas bookings at higher yields. The 8% rise in average fares reflects our improved customer service, record punctuality, and the successful rollout of our reserved seating service."

Ryanair claimed this morning that its "industry-leading" customer service ensured 93% of its flights arrive on time, less than four flights in every 1,000 are cancelled, and less than one per 3,000 passengers report a lost bag.

The airline also said a survey of 10,000 passengers during December indicated that 83% were "satisfied or very satisfied" with their flight and that 95% said "Ryanair provides excellent value for money."

Ryanair's happy passengers prompted the airline to lift its full-year earnings guidance from 505 million euros to 540 million euros, equivalent to about 0.37 euros per share. The revised projection now values the airline at 14.6 times current-year profits.

Of course, whether Ryanair's positive third quarter, its current 8 billion euro market cap, and its "industry-leading" customer service now combine to make the share a buy is up to you.

But if you already own Ryanair shares and are looking for some diversification with your investments, this free special report covers three defensive sectors that may prove to be safe havens if economically sensitive industries such as aviation take a tumble.

The report outlines several big-name FTSE stocks that boast long records, fat profits, high dividends, and operations far removed from budget flights to Europe. To discover which FTSE names could complement a Ryanair investment today, just click here to download your free copy of the report.

The article Ryanair Profits Soar 21% originally appeared on Fool.com.

Maynard Paton and The Motley Fool have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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