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Vinci sees smaller growth, eyes renewable energy projects in 2023

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Vinci is pictured on the A62 motorway in Saint-Jory

(Reuters) - French infrastructure group Vinci, the operator of London's Gatwick Airport among others, does not expect full air traffic recovery this year as demand in Asia is still lagging, it said on Thursday, as it beat annual net profit forecasts.

Europe's biggest construction and concessions company, which operates airports and motorways across the globe, has seen travel rebound this year as pandemic-related travel curbs eased, but restrictions have remained in China until recently.

"With a delayed return to normal in Asia ... it is possible that in 2023 we will still be slightly below the traffic seen in 2019," Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Xavier Huillard told journalists on a call.

Vinci's airport traffic more than doubled compared to 2021, reaching 72.5% of pre-pandemic levels.

The body representing European airports, ACI Europe, pushed back the expected full recovery in airline passenger volumes in Europe to 2025 from 2024.

Vinci's full-year net profit of 4.26 billion euros ($4.58 billion) rose 64% from a year earlier, boosted by air and motorway traffic recovery which lifted concessions revenue by 30%. Construction, the group's biggest earner, generated 29.3 billion euros of revenue, an 8% like-for-like gain. Analysts had forecast 4.13 billion euros net profit in a Refinitiv poll.

Traffic on Vinci's motorways which grew 6.0% from last year despite higher fuel prices and fuel shortages in the fourth quarter, should remain stable this year, the group said.

Vinci's revenues abroad exceeded those in France for the first time this year, rising to 55% of total group earnings. It forecast a smaller increase in 2023 revenue and earnings than in 2022 as it faces much higher costs.

Vinci's shares rose 1.9% at 1158 GMT.

RENEWABLES PUSH

Vinci, which has been increasingly investing in renewable energy including a solar farm in Brazil, plans to start a dozen projects in Spain in the coming months.

Revenue of its Cobra IS renewable energy-focused business, acquired from Spanish rival ACS last year, is expected to grow at least 10% in 2023, boosted by large engineering and construction projects.

Huillard said Vinci's first large field in Brazil, which will start producing green electricity around mid-2023, will have the capacity to power a city of around 600,000 people.

($1 = 0.9311 euros)

(Reporting by Lina Golovnya and Dagmarah Mackos in Gdansk; Editing by Milla Nissi and Elaine Hardcastle)