By Claire West

Travel company Thomas Cook has issued a profits warning resulting in a sharp drop in its shares.

The company says that underlying operating profit for the three months to 30 June 2011 is likely to be around £20m, which is £5m lower than the comparable prior year period.

A spokesperson for the company says; "The main reasons for this shortfall are the higher than previously forecast impact of the ongoing political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), particularly on our
French operations, and the performance of our UK business in the face of difficult trading conditions."

It seems that the MENA impact will be substantially higher than previously estimated, with the French business in particular seeing further reduced demand and lower margins during peak season for its key destinations of Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.