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UPDATE 2-Thomas Cook shares plunge after latest profit warning

Alistair Smout

* Shares hit 6-1/2 year low after warning on summer

* Discounting putting pressure on margins - CEO

* Multiple bids for airline business (Adds details, quotes, shares)

LONDON, May 16 (Reuters) - Travel group Thomas Cook issued its third profit warning in less than a year on Thursday, saying consumer uncertainty would hurt its performance during the peak summer sending, sending shares plummeting 20 percent to a 6-1/2 year low.

Thomas Cook said it had received multiple bids for its airline unit, but this was overshadowed by what Chief Executive Peter Fankhauser called a "difficult trading environment."

"There is little doubt that weaker consumer confidence continues to have an impact," he told reporters.

"With a lot of holidays left to sell across the market, there are high levels of discounting at this early stage of the season. .. This is putting further pressure on margins."

Shares fell as much as 22.7 percent in early deals to their lowest level since November 2012, taking the value of the company below 300 million pounds ($385 million).

The oldest travel company in the world stumbled badly last year when a heatwave in northern Europe deterred holiday makers from booking lucrative last minute deals, leading to two major profit warnings and talk of a need to raise funds.

The company said it made an underlying loss before interest and tax of 245 million pounds ($315 million) in the six months to March 31, compared with a loss of 65 million pounds in the same period a year earlier.

Thomas Cook also took an impairment charge of 1.1 billion pounds relating to a 2007 merger with MyTravel.

It warned that second-half underlying earnings before interest and tax would be below the same period last year and added it had agreed a 300 million pound bank facility to provide more liquidity for the 2019/20 Winter season.


Fankhauser said that British holidaymakers had delayed booking in the run-up to March 29, when Britain had been due to leave the European Union, but there had not been a pick-up since that date was pushed back to October 31.

Adding to pressure on the company, short-selling of Thomas Cook shares has surged recently. The volume of shares on loan has doubled since May 5, and is about nine times its level on Jan 1. Some 12.1% of shares outstanding are on loan.

Thomas Cook has put its airlines business up for sale to raise cash.

It said on Thursday it had received multiple bids for all and part of a business which consists of Germany's Condor, as well as British, Scandinavian and Spanish divisions.

Lufthansa has said it wants to buy Condor with an option to acquire the remaining airlines, while Virgin Atlantic is also reportedly interested in part of the business. ($1 = 0.7788 pounds) (Additional reporting by Helen Reid Editing by Mark Potter and Keith Weir)