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UPDATE 2-Vinci tops French blue-chip index on profits beat, flags bumpy 2021

(Recasts with details, shares move, CEO comments)

Feb 5 (Reuters) - Vinci’s shares rose more than 5% on Friday to the top of France’s CAC 40 Index, after its results beat expectations and its cashflows were strong, although the infrastructure group said its 2021 earnings would not recover to 2019 levels.

Europe’s biggest construction and concessions company said high cash inflows from the group’s contracting division, which covers energy, construction and transport projects, had offset falls elsewhere, mostly in its airports business.

Vinci Airports remain badly affected, Chief Executive Xavier Huillard said, as the owner of London’s Gatwick airport confirmed 2020 passenger numbers were down 70%.

Pandemic movement restrictions also meant its motorway activites fell, although heavy vehicle traffic was resilient, meaning motorway traffic was down 20% in 2020, in line with the group’s own predictions.

On Friday, the company said motorway traffic in January was “not very good”, although slightly higher than the 2020 average. It said visibility was limited in concessions that group its airport and motorway activities.

Speaking on a call with journalists, Huillard flagged a 2.4 billion euros ($2.87 billion) pandemic impact on its net results.

After free cash flow reached 3.99 billion euros, close to 2019 levels, at the end of the year, driven by the contracting division, it said it aimed to grow 2021 revenues to close to 2019 levels and improve operating margins.

The company’s full-year operating income from ordinary activities (EBIT) was 2.86 billion euros, above a Refinitiv poll average forecast of 2.51 billion euros. ($1 = 0.8348 euros) (Reporting by Charles Regnier and Juliette Portala in Gdansk ; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Barbara Lewis)

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