* NPAT from continuing ops up 3.3 pct to A$2.25 bln
* Dividend 71 cps
* Sees FY14 NPAT from continuing ops up 4-7 pct
* Shares down 0.5 pct in weaker wider market
(Adds analyst and CEO comment, detail on acquisitions)
SYDNEY, Aug 28 Australia's largest supermarket
chain Woolworths Ltd said it expected earnings to grow
in the current year even though consumer sentiment would remain
subdued, as it posted a 3.3 percent rise in annual profit.
Woolworths and Wesfarmers Ltd-owned Coles, which
together control 80 percent of Australia's supermarket sector,
have been competing to lure shoppers by slashing prices of basic
items such as milk and bread and branching out to find new areas
Woolworths said last week it would buy New Zealand-based
direct retailer EziBuy Holdings Ltd to grab a larger share of
Australia's rapidly growing online retail business. The deal
values EziBuy, which makes 70 percent of its sales in Australia,
at NZ$350 million ($275.35 million).
The Sydney-based supermarket giant also has been ramping up
its online and liquor sales, having sold its poorly performing
Dick Smith electronics stores last year, and is expanding its
Masters home improvement business to take on Wesfarmers'
Bunnings home-and-garden warehouses.
Woolworths has also made an offer for Hutchison Whampoa
Ltd's Hong Kong supermarket business ParknShop,
according to Reuters sources, in a deal that could be worth up
to $4 billion.
"They are currently very busy in Australia with their
Masters strategy," said Commonwealth Bank of Australia analyst
Andrew Mclennan. "They've got a lot of capital tied up with that
business, so it seems to be me both in terms of capital
available and management skills available, now would not be the
best time (for a ParknShop deal)."
Chief executive Grant O'Brien declined to comment
specifically on Woolworths' interest in ParknShop, but said the
company would be cautious on acquisitions.
"In fact we've said in 2011 international expansion is part
of our consideration for our future growth. We never speculate
on what we will be looking at. This is something we are very
cautious about," O'Brien told reporters in a phone briefing.
Net profit from continuing operations for the year ended
June 30 rose to A$2.25 billion ($2.02 billion) from A$2.18
billion a year ago, the company said in a statement. On a
normalised 52 week basis before one-off items, net profit was up
6.1 percent to A$2.35 billion, matching a consensus analyst
forecast, according to Thomson Reuters Starmine data.
"We expected retail conditions to remain subdued in FY14
with ongoing consumer caution reflecting cost of living
pressures, a flat job market and uncertainty created by the
federal election despite historically low interest rates,"
Woolworths said, forecasting profit to rise 4 percent to 7
percent in the current year.
Australia goes to the polls on September 7 with the
conservative opposition widely tipped to oust the Labor-led
government under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Shares in Woolworths were flat in a weaker wider market. The
stock is up about 16 percent this year, outperforming the
S&P/ASX 200 Index
($1 = 1.1154 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang and Lincoln Feast; Editing by