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* Shares up over 25 pct year to date vs 1 pct Nikkei gain
By James Topham
TOKYO, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Fast Retailing forecast a 13.5 percent rise in annual operating profit for this financial year amid expectations that growth from overseas outlets of its Uniqlo basic apparel and Japan cut-price clothing g.u. chains will drive profits.
Uniqlo dominates Japan's retail apparel market and Fast Retailing is pushing the in-house brand of affordable basics internationally in order to leapfrog Zara-owner Inditex S.A. , Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M) and Gap Inc. to become world's top apparel retailer by 2020.
Asia's top apparel retailer projected on Thursday a record 143.5 billion yen ($1.83 billion) in operating profit for the year that started in September, lower than the 148.8 billion yen average estimate from a poll of 23 analysts by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The clothing seller, run by Japan's richest man, Tadashi Yanai, is also projecting 1.1 trillion yen in sales, a record annual figure, but still significantly below the 5 trillion yen it aims to generate by 2020.
Fast Retailing expects the number of Uniqlo shops overseas to grow nearly 50 percent to 437 by August next year. It is aiming to increase its domestic outlets by less than 1 percent to 854.
Most of the new outlets will be added in China and Southeast Asia where the market is less concentrated and has more growth potential. Fast Retailing expects two-thirds of its 2020 revenue goal to come from Asia.
Last month, a territorial dispute between Asia's two biggest economies resulted in several Japanese firms operating in China, including Fast Retailing, being the target of protests and attacks, but Yanai has said the row is not impacting its expansion plans.
For the past business year, the clothing company booked a 126.5 billion yen operating profit, an 8.7 percent year-on-year rise, helped by higher sales at Uniqlo shops in Japan, which account for about three-quarters of sales for the entire group.
Operating profit slid 39.6 percent to 7.1 billion yen for June-August, marking the first drop in three quarters.
Fast Retailing shares have jumped more than 25 percent since the start of the calendar year, outperforming a 1 percent rise in the benchmark Nikkei average.
The company is trading at a rich valuation, with forward price to earnings multiple of 20.9, the highest among 34 specialty retail companies in Japan with a market value of at least $100 million, Thomson Reuters StarMine data shows.
Prior to Thursday's announcement, Fast Retailing shares settled 1.3 percent lower, versus an 0.6 dip in the Nikkei.