UPDATE 1-French group Edenred confident for 2018, hikes dividend after record 2017 earnings

2017 earnings@

* 2017 EBIT 437 mln euros, up 13.1 pct l-f-l

* Hikes 2017 dividend by 37 pct, eyes targeted acquisitions

* Expects sustained growth in Europe to continue in 2018 (Adds CEO comments from call)

PARIS, Feb 20 (Reuters) - French prepaid meal voucher and card provider company Edenred expressed confidence over 2018, predicting sustained growth in Europe and Latin America even as economic conditions in Brazil remained challenging.

Edenred, which helps firms manage staff expenses and benefits and is best known for its "Ticket Restaurant" vouchers, made the forecast after reporting record 2017 earnings and handing investors a 37 percent dividend hike.

"This is a new record year with all key indicators at historic levels and in comparable terms we are ahead of our targets," Chief Executive Bertrand Dumazy told journalists.

"The performance achieved in 2017 confirms that Edenred has set itself on a course of profitable and sustainable growth," he added.

Edenred, which competes with caterers Sodexo and Compass as well as credit card networks MasterCard and Visa, said 2017 earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) reached 437 million euros ($541 million) against 370 million in 2016.

That was slightly above estimates for an EBIT of 430 million euros in a ThomsonReuters I/B/E/S poll, while Edenred's own guidance had been for a 2017 EBIT of 420-445 million euros.

Revenues reached 1.339 billion euros, up 17.6 percent. On a like-for-like basis revenue rose 8.6 percent.

Edenred, which employs 8,000 people in 45 countries, sells prepaid meal vouchers that employers offer to workers, but its development of products such as fuel cards aims to tap into a sector that is growing faster than other employee benefits as companies seek to control business expenses more effectively.

Its 'Employee Benefits' division now makes 65 percent of revenue while Fleet and Mobility Solutions 25 percent of revenue against a mere 14 percent in 2015, it said.

The company is also accelerating its shift from paper-based vouchers to digital cards to cut costs.

At the end of 2017, digital solutions accounted for 78 percent of Edenred's business volume, up 8 points from 2016 and on track to meet a target of 85 percent in 2020.

In Latin America, which makes up 41 percent of its business, strong growth was expected to continue in Mexico and Argentina in 2018 although Edenred said conditions remained tough in Brazil, which is just emerging from recession.

Edenred, whose recent acquisitions include Vasa Slovenko, a meal voucher company in Slovakia, and a 51 percent stake in Poland-based fuel card distributor Timex Card, said it would consider making further acquisitions this year.

For 2018, the company confirmed its medium-term objectives of like-for-like growth in operating revenue of more than 7 percent, operating EBIT growth of more than 9 percent and as well as like-for-like growth in Funds From Operations (FFO) of over 10 percent. Edenred beat all these targets in 2017.

Edenred shares have gained nearly 6.4 percent so far this year, after rising 28.4 percent last year.

($1 = 0.8078 euros) (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)