(Add CEO interview, sales details)
By Bill Berkrot
April 24 (Reuters) - Scientific instruments maker PerkinElmer Inc reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit on Thursday, helped by increased demand for its medical diagnostics products and continued double-digit growth in China.
"We're off to a solid start. I think we're going to see accelerating growth this year and that will translate into a strong bottom line," PerkinElmer Chief Executive Robert Friel said in a telephone interview.
The company, which also sells environmental testing products, posted a first-quarter net profit of $34.2 million, or 30 cents a share, compared with a profit of $32.2 million, or 28 cents a share, a year earlier.
Excluding one-time items, PerkinElmer said it had adjusted earnings of 46 cents per share, topping analysts' average expectations by 2 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company tweaked its full-year earnings forecast and now expects adjusted 2014 earnings of $2.42 to $2.46 per share, up from its previous view of $2.40 to $2.45. Analysts on average are looking for $2.45 per share.
"Where we saw the most significant improvement in the first quarter was in our diagnostic end markets," Friel said, noting particularly strong demand for the company's prenatal and neonatal testing products.
"Birth rates in China are accelerating and actually birth rates in the U.S. are up a little bit after a couple of years of pretty flat birth rates," he said.
He said the pharmaceutical research business had stabilized after a year of uncertainty, when automatic U.S. budget cuts known as sequestration, took a toll on academic research in particular.
And while the overall economy in China has been slowing, Friel said that PerkinElmer has not been feeling the pinch as much as other companies, with growth in the low double digits in the first quarter and reason to be optimistic going forward.
"They're going to increase cracking down on environmental contaminants. There's going to be a lot more monitoring," Friel said. "That all leads to continued good growth."
Revenue for the quarter rose 5 percent to $531.9 million, edging past Wall Street estimates of $531.3 million.
Sales from the Human Health division rose to $299.5 million from $281.3 million in the year-before quarter. Environmental Health sales rose to $232.4 million from $224 million. (Reporting by Bill Berkrot, editing by G Crosse and Peter Galloway)