Thomas Cook, Europe's second biggest tourism firm, said on Tuesday it had narrowed its loss in the first nine months of the year by 21 percent as it cut costs and the number of holidaymakers in Germany rose.

The loss before tax was 55.9 million euros (37.9 million pounds), compared with a loss of 71.2 million in the year earlier period. Sales during the period rose 2 percent to 5.01 billion euros.

The company said it continued to expect pretax profit in the year ending October 31 to rise at least 5 to 10 percent from 140 million euros last year.

But it trimmed its full year sales forecast to a rise of 2 to 3 percent from 4 percent previously, after the number of customers transported by the group increased just 0.9 percent to 8.2 million during the first nine months.

The fact that development has not been better is due to the World Cup and avian flu, which kept lots of British travellers at home, plus the kerosene surcharges and terrorist attacks, finance chief Ludger Heuberg told a news conference.

Thomas Cook had 2.6 percent more passengers in Germany. But the number of passengers from Britain slipped 0.7 percent, the firm said.

Thomas Cook is jointly owned by German airline Deutsche Lufthansa and retailer KarstadtQuelle, though the owners are currently in talks over the future ownership as Karstadt is keen to take full control of the tourism firm.

Shares in Karstadt were 0.4 percent higher at 16.74 euros by 9:57 a.m., while Lufthansa stock was down 0.6 percent at 15.42 euros. The German bluem chip DAX index was up slightly.