(Recasts on Trump comments, updates shares)
By Colin Packham and Tom Westbrook
SYDNEY, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Australia’s biggest listed private educator Navitas Ltd on Tuesday blamed U.S. politics for a downturn in inquiries about English classes in the United States, as a decline in half-yearly earnings sent its shares to a one-year low.
Navitas Chief Executive Officer Rod Jones said the company had already started to feel the impact of U.S. President Donald Trump’s temporary travel restrictions targeting seven Muslim-majority nations.
“We have started to see students back off from the U.S. because of their concerns about potential issues they may face,” Jones told an analyst call.
“But they still want to go somewhere,” he added, saying Australia and Canada were “key markets going forward”.
“The Canadian prime minister has come out and said ‘if the U.S. doesn’t want you, we’d love to have you’, and I think it is the approach of Australia too.”
Pre-tax earnings for Asia’s eighth-biggest education company fell 8 percent to A$76.6 million ($58 million) for the six months to Dec. 31, meeting analyst expectations but marred by a 12 percent slump in sales from its main business unit.
Shares in the A$1.7 billion company fell 6.4 percent by mid-afternoon, hitting their lowest intraday level since January 2016, while the overall sharemarket dipped 1 percent.
With operations in Australia, North America and Britain, Navitas’s main business is running English proficiency and pre-university courses for foreign students. Its international footprint makes it vulnerable to changes in student visa regulations and currency volatility.
Navitas said factors which hit revenue included migration restrictions in Britain, adverse currency exchange rates and a fall in Australian enrolments because of two college closures.
Net profit rose 18.8 percent, mostly boosted by the partial sale of a college in Perth. Navitas announced an interim dividend of 9.4 cents, from 9.6 cents previously.
Trump’s directive on Friday put a 120-day hold on allowing refugees into the country, an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and a 90-day bar on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The White House says the restrictions will protect Americans from terrorism, although critics argue it illegally singles out Muslims.
$1 = 1.3236 Australian dollars Editing by Byron Kaye and Stephen Coates