Australia's Wesfarmers says cautiously optimistic on H2

MELBOURNE Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:43pm EST

MELBOURNE Feb 14 (Reuters) - Australia's Wesfarmers Ltd beat expectations with a 9.3 percent rise in first-half net profit and said it was cautiously optimistic for the second half as it expects growth in its retail business.

Wesfarmers, which has retail, coal and insurance businesses said net profit in the six months to Dec. 31 rose to A$1.285 billion. Analysts had expected A$1.216 billion, according to the average of three forecasts.

The stock rose 2.2 percent to A$39.28 after the result, outperforming a 0.3 percent rise for the broader market.

"We expect growth from the group's retail businesses as we further improve customer offers and operating efficiencies," said Chief Executive Richard Goyder.

Goyder was cautiously optimistic for the second half despite continuing economic and market uncertainty, and challenging conditions in resources, Wesfarmers said in a statement.

For its Coles supermarkets, first-half earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) rose 15 percent to A$755 million. EBIT for home improvement chain Bunnings grew 7 percent, while EBIT for Officeworks climbed 12 percent and at discount store Kmart 25 percent.

But earnings fell at discount department store Target, with EBIT down 20 percent.

Lower export coal prices and a strong Australian dollar led to lower resources earnings despite lower operating costs, Wesfarmers said. Resources EBIT fell 63 percent.

(Reporting by Miranda Maxwell; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)