* FX changes on asbestos compensation claims hit profit
* US housing market improving slower than expected
* Company’s FY 2015 outlook below analyst forecasts (Adds profit detail, shares, housing market outlook)
SYDNEY, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Australia’s James Hardie Industries PLC , the world’s biggest fibre cement products maker, said on Friday its first-quarter earnings tumbled and warned full-year profit will fall short of analyst expectations as the U.S. housing market recovers more slowly than it previously anticipated.
The firm, which generates two-thirds of its revenue in the United States and Europe, saw its Sydney-listed shares slump after it said net profit for the first quarter of its fiscal year skidded 80 percent. The earnings drop was mainly because of unfavourable changes in exchange rates as the company pays compensation for claims of health damage from historic use of asbestos in products.
Net profit for the three months to June 30 fell to $28.9 million compared to $142.2 million a year ago. Not including asbestos adjustments, gross profit grew 11 percent to $140 million, while revenue rose 12 percent to $416.8 million.
But the company, which supplies products like cladding for the outside walls of houses, presented a more muted outlook on the recovery in the U.S. housing construction market than it gave when it reported results for the previous fiscal year three months ago.
In Sydney James Hardie shares fell as much as 7.5 percent to touch four-month lows. By 0011 GMT the stock had recovered slightly, trading 6.8 percent lower at A$13.08.
In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange, the company said while the U.S. market was improving, with housing starts in the first quarter up 4 percent from a year earlier, the improvement was at “a more moderate level than originally assumed for the year”.
“Recent flattening in housing activity has created some uncertainty about the pace of the recovery in the short-term,” the statement said. “Although U.S. housing activity has been improving for some time, market conditions remain somewhat uncertain and some input costs remain volatile.”
James Hardie noted analysts have forecast it will post operating profit excluding asbestos compensation costs of between $226 million and $261 million for the full financial year. But the company said it expects the result to be in the range of $205 million to $235 million, compared with $197.2 million for the previous year. (1 US dollar = 1.0733 Australian dollar) (Reporting By Byron Kaye and Jane Wardell; Editing by Chris Reese and Kenneth Maxwell)