Spanish airline Iberia said yesterday it expects to post net profit of more than 150 million euros ($162 million) in 2002, below analysts' forecasts. Iberia's shares fell by 2.2 percent to 1.34 euros but outperformed other European airlines such as British Airways, which tumbled more than five percent in early trade, and Air France, off 4.6 percent. “I think it (net profit for 2002) is even better than 150 million euros,” Chief Executive Angel Mullor told Reuters at the sidelines of a tourism conference in the Spanish capital. The CEO gave no further details about the forecast, but said his company was likely to take a long–awaited decision to replace its ageing Boeing 747 fleet on Thursday. The profit forecast would be triple the airline's 2001 attributable net profit of about 50.2 million euros but fall below analysts' 177.6 million euro consensus estimate for 2002, according to Multex Global Estimates. In November, Iberia reported a 24 percent rise in nine–month net profit to 173 million euros. Iberia has coped better than many of its competitors with a slump in air travel following the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. It has slashed costs to compensate for a decline in sales and reduced the number of seats on offer, helping it sharply improve its load factor – the percentage of seats filled. Last week Spanish savings bank Caja Madrid, which holds a 10 percent stake in Iberia, said it had earned 15 million euros from its holding in the airline. The decision on upgrading the fleet would take place at a board meeting scheduled for Thursday. Spanish newspaper El Pais reported yesterday that Iberia would post 2002 net profits of about 150 million euros after making provisions for part of the 1.2 billion euro cost of renewing its fleet. Iberia said in December it was considering replacing the planes with Boeing 777s or Airbus A–340–600s or possibly second–hand 747s.

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