SYDNEY Feb 13 (Reuters) - Leighton Holdings Ltd, Australia's largest construction company, reported a smaller-than-expected 3 percent fall in second-half net profit and forecast a stronger 2013, sending its shares up 4 percent.
Leighton, which has been plagued by losses from key projects, posted a net profit for the six months to end December 2012 of A$335.4 million, based on calculations from full-year figures.
Full year net profit was A$450 million, compared with a loss of A$405.7 million in 2011, at the top end of Leighton's downgraded forecast of A$400 million to A$450 million.
Leighton said it expected 2013 underlying net profit to rise by as much as a third to A$520 million-A$600 million from A$448 million in 2012, as it puts its project losses behind it and as construction markets in Asia and Australia grow.
The company, controlled by Spain's ACS, is selling its intercity fibre-optic business, known as NextGen and two smaller data businessers Metronode and Infoplex, to cut debt.
The NextGen sale could bring in up to A$870 million, Citigroup analysts estimate, while Morgan Stanley expects a sale price of between A$625 million and A$750 million.
The company did not comment on the sales process.
Canadian pension fund Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan has emerged as a final-round bidder for NextGen while Hong Kong telecommunications company PCCW Ltd is looking at the two smaller data businesses, according to Reuters sources.
The delayed construction of a water desalination plant in the state of Victoria, and a road link to Brisbane airport in Queensland state -- both now completed -- generated about A$2 billion in losses for the company.
Leighton has also been hit by a slowdown in China that has forced miners to scale back on their most ambitious expansion plans.
It has A$295 million of debt maturing in July 2014, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Leighton shares rose as high as A$21.85 and last traded 4.5 percent higher at A$21.75.