Australia's Crown beats forecasts with 14 pct profit rise, shares surge

SYDNEY Thu Aug 22, 2013 9:27pm EDT

SYDNEY Aug 23 (Reuters) - Australian casino group Crown Ltd , owned by billionaire James Packer, beat forecasts with a 14 percent rise in full-year net profit thanks to strong results at its Macau unit, although it said consumer sentiment remained weak in Australia.

Net profit after tax excluding any impact from volatile VIP gaming revenue rose to A$473.2 million ($426.94 million) for the year ended June 30, from A$415 million a year ago, the company said in a statement.

That was ahead of analysts' forecast of A$452.3 million, according to Thomson Reuters Starmine data.

Crown shares jumped 6.7 percent to A$14.48 by 0108 GMT, the biggest one-day gain in four years. The stock has gained about 35 percent for the year against a 10 percent rise in the broader market.

Crown, which co-owns Macau casino Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd , said the Macau business was a "major contributor" to the group's net profit, with the premium mass market of upper-middle-class gamblers particularly strong.

The Macau unit is planning to open a casino complex in Manila in mid-2014, the company said, in a move that would boost its share of the booming Asian gaming market.

Crown said it continued to see "evidence of weak consumer sentiment" in Australia, without elaborating on how this had affected its operations. The company said its Melbourne casino had been impacted by disruptions caused by refurbishments.

Net profit after tax and significant items fell to A$395.8 million, largely due to a loss on Crown's disposal of an investment in junior rival Echo Entertainment Group Ltd .

Crown won conditional approval to build a A$1.1 billion casino resort in Sydney last month, securing its share of the lucrative Asian visitor market and thwarting Echo's bid to extend its exclusive casino licence in the city beyond 2019.

The company is also hoping to expand into the city of Brisbane where Echo already operates a casino, arguing Australia needs to increase its gaming options to compete against Asian gambling centres like Macau and the Philippines.

Chinese tycoon Tony Fung has proposed to build a A$4.2 billion ($3.75 billion) casino and resort project close to the world-heritage Great Barrier Reef, a move set to accelerate competition in the country's gambling and tourism market.

Packer is close to sealing a deal in Sri Lanka to develop a $350 million hotel and leisure resort project, according to that country's investment minister.

($1 = 1.1083 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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