By SHAWN POGATCHNIK, Associated Press
DUBLIN (AP) Ryanair reported record profits Monday as Europe's largest budget airline relentlessly expanded its route network across the continent and into North Africa.The Dublin-based carrier's share price also surged to an all-time high after it predicted it would enjoy similar, if not better, earnings in the coming year.The company's net profit in the 12 months through March rose 13 percent to 569.3 million euros ($729 million), eclipsing last year's record. The airline, famous for its extra charges on everything from boarding cards to assigned seats, has thrived against higher-cost rivals amid recession and the eurozone debt crisis.Sales rose 13 percent to 4.9 billion euros for the fiscal year ending in March. This reflects a 6 percent rise in average ticket prices and 217 new routes, taking Ryanair's network to more than 1,600. During the year, Ryanair opened up new bases in Croatia, Greece, Morocco, the Netherlands and Poland.Ryanair carried 79.3 million passengers, up 5 percent, and continued to sell on average 82 percent of its seats. It expects to carry 81.5 million customers in the 2013-14 fiscal year.Shares in Ryanair rose 6 percent to 6.72 euros on the Irish Stock Exchange, nearly 50 percent higher than its price a year ago.Analysts welcomed confirmation that Ryanair has secured 90 percent of its 2013-14 fuel needs at an average cost of $98 per barrel, close to the current market price.Fuel represents Ryanair's biggest expense and, if not hedged against, is its most unpredictable threat to future profitability. Ryanair said its fuel costs rose 18 percent in 2012-13 to 1.89 billion euros, or 45 percent of total company expenses.Ryanair offered an upbeat outlook, predicting a further increase in its net profits over the next 12 months despite recession across much of Europe. It forecast a profit in the range of 570 million euros to 600 million euros for the year ending in March 2014, making it far and away the best-performing airline in Europe.Its network is expected to keep growing as quickly as its fleet of Boeing 737-800s expands. Ryanair already operates 305 aircraft, and in March ordered 175 more 737-800s to be delivered from 2014 to 2018."Our new-route teams continue to handle more growth opportunities than our current fleet expansion allows. Significant opportunities are opening up in Germany, Scandinavia and central Europe in particular, where Air Berlin, SAS and LOT continue to restructure," Chief Executive Michael O'Leary said in a statement.
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