(Corrects second-half to first-half in fourth paragraph)
By Massimo Gaia
MILAN, July 25 Italian hearing aid group Amplifon said it expected results in the second half of the year to improve as Asian and U.S. markets continued to grow and a sales slump in the Netherlands eased.
Sales in the Netherlands, Amplifon's fourth biggest European market, plunged 26.5 percent in the first half hurt by regulatory uncertainty and a consumer-protection television show that complained about high prices of hearing aid systems, adding to weakness in other European markets.
"In the Netherlands sales in July have shown a significant improvement," Amplifon Chief Executive Franco Moscetti said in an interview with Reuters after the release of forecast-busting first-half results. "The (overall) situation is set to improve."
Shares in Amplifon closed up 7.5 percent at 3.03 euros, outperforming a 0.8 percent rise in the Milan's all-share stock index. The stock had suffered in recent weeks as analysts forecast lower first-half core-earnings and net income.
But double-digit growth in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific more than offset a drop in high-margin European markets, driving first-half revenues up 1.7 percent to 407.4 million euros ($492 mln). Core earnings fell 3 percent to 62.3 million euros.
Both figures topped analysts' consensus expectations.
Amplifon, who competes against France's Audika, strengthened its position in the Asia-Pacific with the 2010 purchases of Australia's NHC Group. In the States it managed to turn around a loss-making business run under the Sonus and Miracle Ear brands.
"Our strategy of geographic diversification proved to be right," Moscetti said.
He said Amplifon, which has a network of more than 3,000 shops globally, intended to continue expanding in India, where earlier this week it bought 38 shops to take advantage of a 15 percent annual market rise.
Moscetti also said the group was looking into possible acquisitions in markets with high margins and where its presence was too small, particularly in Germany. ($1 = 0.8275 euros) (Editing by William Hardy)