* H1 op. profit up 12.6 pct to 426.2 mln euros
* Says partnership with Rosneft does not violate sanctions
* Still looking for industrial partnership for trucks in Asia (Adds details, comments from conference call)
MILAN, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Italy’s Pirelli, the world’s fifth-largest tyremaker, confirmed its full-year targets on Tuesday after reporting a larger-than-expected increase in first-half operating profit, boosted by strong growth in its premium tyre division.
The company expects to report sales of around 6.2 billion euros ($8.29 billion) this year, up from 6.15 billion last year, and earnings before interest and taxes after restructuring costs (EBIT) of 850 million euros, up from 791 million euros in 2013.
Pirelli, whose tyres equip motorcycles, cars, and Formula 1 racers, said earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) in the January-June period rose 12.6 percent to 426.2 million euros, helped by its focus on more expensive products, lower raw material costs, a better price mix and efficiency measures.
Analysts were expecting a 411 million euro operating profit, according to a consensus provided by the company on its website.
“Premium, our platform for value growth, exceeded our expectations worldwide,” Pirelli Chairman and CEO Marco Tronchetti Provera told analysts on a conference call.
First-half revenues in the six month period fell 3.3 percent on the back of currency swings to 2.987 billion euros, compared with an analyst consensus of 2.989 billion euros.
Pirelli has managed to boost margins in recent years even as car sales in Europe fell to historic lows by focusing since 2010 on more expensive tyres for brands such as Mercedes, Audi and BMW - luxury carmakers that have weathered the downturn better than their mainstream rivals.
Sales of premium tyres grew by nearly 22 percent in the first half of this year, helping the company gain market share in all geographic areas, Pirelli said.
Tronchetti Provera said a legal opinion from a top U.S. law firm had confirmed that the presence of oil giant Rosneft in Pirelli’s share capital and that of its head Igor Sechin’s on the Italian tyremaker’s board did not violate U.S. sanctions against Russia.
The two firms agreed a deal earlier this year, giving Rosneft a 13 percent indirect stake in Pirelli.
“We wanted to have a formal answer from an American law firm to make all our investors confident and comfortable,” Tronchetti Provera said.
Tronchetti Provera also said the group was still looking for an industrial partnership for the truck business in Asia.
“We are in touch with some players,” he said, adding that there was nothing to announce yet.
The results were released after market closed on Tuesday. The stock, which is down nearly 11.5 percent in the year to date, closed down 1.35 percent at 11 euros in the session.
$1 = 0.7479 Euros Reporting by Agnieszka Flak, editing by William Hardy