UPDATE 1-James Hardie doubles annual profit, sees U.S. housing pickup

Wed May 21, 2014 8:25pm EDT

* Net profit $99.5 mln vs $45.5 mln

* Sees U.S. housing construction improving

* Declares second special dividend in three months (Recasts with net profit, adds details on asbestos)

SYDNEY, May 22 (Reuters) - James Hardie Industries Plc , the world's biggest fibre cement products maker, said on Thursday it expects the U.S. housing construction market to improve this year as it posted a more than doubling in annual net profit.

James Hardie, which generates two-thirds of its revenue in Europe and the United States, said annual net sales in those markets jumped 19 percent helped by strong rises in U.S. single family building permits.

"The company continues to expect improvement in the U.S. operating environment," the company said in a statement.

James Hardie posted a net profit of $99.5 million for the year to March 31, up from $45.5 million the previous year.

Net operating profit, which excludes charges for asbestos liability, asset impairments and regulatory charges, was $197.2 million, compared with $140.8 million.

Overall net sales grew 13 percent to $1.49 billion.

James Hardie shares, which are listed in Australia and the United States, rose 3.51 percent to A$14.17 by 1213 GMT in Sydney on Thursday, their highest point in more than six weeks.

The Dublin-based company declared a final dividend of $0.32 and a special dividend of $0.20, taking the year's total payout to $0.88, more than double the previous year's payout.

James Hardie has been compensating Australian victims of asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma, and said its asbestos liability grew by A$202 million ($186.18 million) to A$1.55 billion by March 31, after the number of claims were higher than expected for a second consecutive year. ($1 = 1.0850 Australian Dollars) (Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Stephen Coates)