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* Sees 1 pct organic sales decline in FY 2018/19
* May return up to 350 mln euros to investors after Areas sale
* Elior sets new mid-term goals, shares down 10 pct (Recasts with share reaction)
PARIS, May 29 (Reuters) - Catering group Elior's shares slumped on Wednesday after the company forecast a fall in full-year sales and reported lacklustre earnings for the first half.
Europe's third largest catering group predicted that for the full year 2018/19 organic sales would decline by 1 percent, taking into account the sale of the company's Areas concessions business.
Elior, which also reported a lower operating margin for the first-half, had previously anticipated full-year organic sales growth of 1 percent.
"This is a true sale warning," one trader said. "Some fund managers are starting to think they are dealing with a serial disappointer."
Elior's shares were down 6% by 0824 GMT after falling some 10% percent earlier in the session.
Elior, which competes with Sodexo and Compass in the catering business, has embarked on an overhaul of after issuing several profit warnings. This includes the sale of the Areas business, which handles railway and motorway catering services in 13 countries spanning Europe, the United States, Mexico and Chile.
Last month, Elior got a firm offer of 1.54 billion euros from private equity firm PAI Partners for the Areas business.
Elior said it expected to close the sale during this summer, and would use the proceeds of the deal to cut its debt. The company also said it might return up to 350 million euros ($390.7 million) in cash to its shareholders either through share buybacks or dividend payments after the sale.
The size of the returns to shareholders will depend on opportunities Elior sees for acquisitions.
"With the sale of Areas we are opening a new chapter in Elior's history," CEO Phillipe Guillemot told a conference call.
Elior said the sale would reduce its leverage ratio to within a range of 1.5-2.0 times core profit (EBITDA), giving it the resources to develop its business and at the same time return cash to shareholders.
First-half revenue rose 1.4% to 2.6 billion euros year-on-year. On an organic basis, which reflects voluntary contract exits in Italy, revenue was down 0.6%.
The adjusted EBITA margin fell to 4.7% of sales from 5.1%, reflecting the group's modernisation strategy and the impact of capital expenditures in prior years.
Elior said it was confident of achieving a target to improve margins in the second half of its financial year.
For the full year, Elior expects a stable adjusted EBITA margin at 3.6% of sales and capital expenditures representing less than 3% of revenue.
Elior also unveiled medium-term targets, which call for an annual organic sales growth of 2-4%, an increase in adjusted EBITA margin of 10-30 basis points per year and capex below 3% of revenue.
($1 = 0.8959 euros) (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Jane Merriman)