UPDATE 1-Malaysia's Genting Q1 profit hit by overseas losses
* Q1 net profit 232.4 mln rgt vs 213 mln rgt yr-ago
* Says Asia's gaming market to remain competitive
* Says Singapore unit to be impacted by weak U.K. economy
* Shares end up 2.6 pct before results
(adds quotes, details)
KUALA LUMPUR, May 27 (Reuters) - Malaysian gaming firm Genting Bhd (GENT.KL) reported on Thursday a slight increase in first-quarter profit, hit by impairment losses at its overseas units, and warned of a challenging period for its Malaysian casino operations.
Asia's appetite for gambling has stayed strong during the economic slowdown, and many casino operators are banking on the region for growth as gaming revenues in traditional markets like Las Vegas and Atlantic City in the U.S. falter.
Genting's Singapore unit opened its $4.5 billion resort on Sentosa Island in February, giving it a head start over rival Las Vegas Sands (LVS.N), which opened its $5.5 billion Marina Bay Sands in April.
"Whilst the outlook for the leisure and hospitality industry remains positive, increasing regional competition is expected to have an impact on the performance of the (Malaysian casino business)," it said in a statement.
Genting, Asia's largest listed casino operator, reported January-March net profit of 232.4 million ringgit, its fifth straight quarterly profit. It made a profit of 213 million ringgit in the year-ago period.
Analysts generally do not provide quarterly earnings forecasts for Malaysian companies.
The average forecast of 21 analysts tracked by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S put Genting's full year net profit at 1.5 billion ringgit before the results were announced.
Genting's Singapore unit recorded an impairment loss of 1.149 billion ringgit due to the weak U.K. economy, which will continue to adversely impact its business there.
Genting, valued at $7.3 billion, also has substantial interests in oil palm plantations, power generation and property development which it deems as non-core businesses for sale at the right price.
Chairman Lim Kok Thay said in January the group is looking at a number of gaming investment opportunities in the U.S. [ID:nKLA010542]
Nineteen out of 22 analysts tracked by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S have either a "buy" or "strong buy" rating on Genting, with two calling it a "hold" and one rating it an "underperform".
Genting shares trade at 1.8 times book against peers MGM's (MGM.N) 1.4 times, Las Vegas Sands' 2.2 times and Wynn's (WYNN.O) 3.0 times, according to data from Thomson Reuters Starmine.
Shares of Genting are down about 8.3 percent so far this year, worse than the 0.3 percent loss in the broader market index .KLSE.
(Reporting by Julie Goh; Editing by David Chance)
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