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* June yield, load factor stronger than expected
* Passenger traffic down 1% yr/yr hit by 737 MAX grounding
* Shares rise 4.5% (Adds analyst, updates share)
OSLO, July 4 (Reuters) - Norwegian Air filled more seats on its planes than expected in June, compensating for a dip in passenger numbers due to the ongoing grounding of Boeing's 737 MAX jets, sending its shares higher on Thursday.
Europe's third-largest budget carrier by passengers flown has curbed its rapid growth this year to focus on cutting costs and turning a profit. It has also raised 3 billion Norwegian crowns ($351 million) from shareholders to boost its finances.
The airline's load factor, which measures how well it fills its planes, rose to 91.5% from 90.5% in June 2018, and topped the 90.7% forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll.
Its yield, reflecting revenue per passenger carried and kilometer flown, rose to 0.45 crown from 0.42 crown, just ahead of the 0.44 crown seen by analysts.
"The efforts of closing down unprofitable routes are obviously starting to pay off, in addition to the fact that existing routes are becoming more mature and thereby perform better," Danske Bank analysts said in a note.
"We expect continued solid traffic figures for the coming months in terms of load and underlying yield," they added.
Norwegian's shares were up 4.5% to 38.98 crowns at 0814 GMT, outperforming an Oslo benchmark index up 0.7%.
The number of passengers flown in June fell 1% year-on-year, Norwegian said, while capacity growth - measured in terms of seats multiplied by kilometers flown - rose 5%, slower than the 8.3% expected by analysts.
"The total number of passengers declined slightly in June, due to the grounding of 18 Boeing 737 MAX and less charter capacity," the company said.
More than 300 MAX jets have been grounded worldwide after two fatal crashes killed a total of almost 350 people. Some airlines now expect the plane to remain out of action until the end of 2019. Norwegian operates 18 of the aircraft.
($1 = 8.5358 Norwegian crowns) (Reporting by Gwladys Fouche, Victoria Klesty and Tommy Lund; Editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter)