UPDATE 1-Ryanair posts record Christmas quarter, sees 'very robust' summer demand
Q3 profit a record 211 mln euros
No sign of recession - CFO
Strong dollar, Asian travel to boost demand
(Adds details from statement, background, quotes from CFO and analyst)
By Conor Humphries
DUBLIN, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Ryanair on Monday posted its largest after-tax profit for the October-December quarter and said bookings for Easter and summer flights in recent weeks were "very robust", boosted by demand from Asian travellers and a strong U.S. dollar.
"Bookings are showing no signs of recession at this point in time," Chief Financial Officer Neil Sorahan told Reuters.
"We had record bookings in week two and week three of January, very robust demand into Easter and the summer without fare stimulation," he said.
The Irish airline, Europe's largest by passenger numbers, said it had earned 211 million euros ($229.40 million) in the three months ended Dec. 31, the third quarter of its financial year.
The profit numbers compared with a forecast of 200 million euros in a company poll of analysts and its previous record of 106 million euros in the final three months of 2017.
Ryanair reiterated its forecast of an after-tax profit of between 1.325 billion and 1.425 billion euros for the year through March 31. Sorahan said he was "very comfortable" with that range.
He declined to comment on whether fares were likely to rise by a high-single-digit percentage in the coming summer, saying only that he was "encouraged by bookings at this point."
The airline in January upgraded an earlier forecast of 1 billion-1.2 billion euros, citing pent-up demand for travel after COVID-19 lockdowns were lifted worldwide.
"With Asian tourists now returning and a strong U.S. dollar encouraging Americans to explore Europe, we're seeing robust demand," Chief Executive Officer Michael O'Leary said in a statement.
Demand weakness in the UK reported earlier in January has disappeared and may have been due to transport strikes in the country, O'Leary said in a video presentation.
Last week, rivals Wizz Air and EasyJet reported strong summer bookings.
Ryanair, which unlike many airlines, kept its pilots and crew up-to-date with their flying hours during the pandemic to take advantage of the swift rebound and flew a record 38.4 million passengers in final three months of 2022.
Its market share increased to 40% in Italy from 26% before the COVID-19 pandemic and to 38% in Poland from 27%, the results statement said on Monday.
"We see the Easter and summer booking commentary as sentiment positive for the shares," Citi analyst Sathish Sivakumar said in a note.
Ryanair expects to fly 168 million passengers in the year through March 31, well above its previous annual record of 149 million reached before the pandemic brought the travel industry to a standstill.
Passenger numbers are set to hit 185 million in the next financial year, O'Leary said.
($1 = 0.9198 euros) (Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)