UPDATE 1-Coal India profit up ahead of expectations
* Q4 net profit 54.1 bln rupees vs 50 bln rupees forecast
* Growth in sales, lower costs boost profits
MUMBAI May 27 (Reuters) - Coal India Ltd, the world's largest coal producer, posted a 35 percent increase in fourth-quarter 2012/13 net profit, beating market estimates, on the back of higher sales and lower-than-expected wage and fuel costs.
The state-run miner said net profit for the January-March quarter rose to 54.14 billion rupees ($974 million) from 40.13 billion a year earlier. Net sales rose 2.5 percent to 199.05 billion rupees.
On average, analysts had forecast net profit of 49.97 billion rupees, according to Thomson Reuters Starmine data. The company's financial year ended on March 31.
It reported employee expenses of 74.70 billion rupees, compared to 94.66 billion a year ago, which included additional provision of about 23 billion rupees, an official said.
Wage increases had forced the company to make a steep provision during the same quarter last year, pushing up costs. However, the wage bill has been spread uniformly in the current fiscal year, officials said, explaining the lower costs.
Coal India produces about 80 percent of India's total coal output, but growth has been stymied for years by delays in environmental and regulatory approvals for mining projects.
The miner produced 452 million tonnes of coal in 2012/13, up 4 percent from a year earlier, but lower than its 464 million tonne target for the year. Shipments rose 5.8 percent for the fourth quarter to 129.95 million tonnes, the company said.
Coal India Chairman S Narsing Rao would not speculate on whether the company planned to raise prices, although the issue is politically sensitive in India where hundreds of millions of people live in poverty and there is an election within a year.
Last year, its main clients the power companies protested when prices were raised, forcing it to reverse the changes. Coal India prices domestic coal at discounts to international prices of between 45 and 70 percent.
Coal India shares have underperformed the main stock index this year over worries about its inability to increase production, but the stock remains an indicator of power demand in Asia's third-largest economy and the company, with a market value of $35.2 billion, is India's fifth-largest.
The government is planning to auction a 10 percent stake in Coal India by August or September, sources told Reuters this month.
Coal India shares closed 1.2 percent higher, ahead of the earnings in a strong Mumbai market. ($1 = 55.61 rupees) (Reporting by Prashant Mehra; Additional reporting by Sujoy Dhar in KOLKATA; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Mike Collett-White)