March 8, 2017 / 10:05 AM / 5 months ago

UPDATE 2-Britain's G4S shares hit 20-month high after 14 pct profit jump

(Adds CEO comments on outlook, updates shares)

March 8 (Reuters) - Shares in G4S hit a 20-month high on Wednesday after the global security provider posted a 13.9 percent jump in full-year profit, underlining its recovery from a series of scandals at a time when rivals are still struggling.

G4S, which operates in more than 100 countries and employs more than 600,000 people, has been selling businesses to pay off debt and working to limit losses from British government contracts that include providing asylum-seekers with accommodation.

Pre-tax profit rose to 352 million pounds ($428.2 million) from 309 million. It maintained its full-year dividend at 9.41 pence per share, allaying analyst concerns that it could be cut.

Chief Executive Ashley Almanza said G4S remained "a large inefficient company" and that productivity improvements with revenue growth were expected to lift profit over the next three years.

Shares of G4S rose as much as 9.2 percent to a near two-year high of 292.1 pence before paring gains to trade up 7.3 percent at 1214 GMT.

The company had been heavily criticised for mishandling sensitive work, including its failure to provide enough security guards for the 2012 London Olympics.

Together with outsourcing firm Serco, it was also investigated by the Serious Fraud Office for overcharging the government to provide electronic tags for offenders, some of whom turned out to have been in jail or dead.

G4S has said it had "materially strengthened controls over the approval of major contracts" since then and increased sales outside of Britain.

It said on Wednesday the United States was now its biggest market by country for the first time. G4S has contracts with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in operations at the Mexico border and transports illegal immigrants in certain areas of the United States.

Revenue from continuing business on a constant currency basis rose to 6.82 billion pounds from 6.42 billion.

G4S said leverage fell to 2.8 times net debt over EBITDA from 3.4 times a year earlier and net debt stood at 1.67 billion pounds.

It also stuck to its net debt-to-core earnings (EBITDA) ratio target of 2.5 times or lower by the end of 2017. ($1 = 0.8221 pounds) (Reporting by Abhijith Ganapavaram in Bengaluru; editing by Jason Neely and Susan Thomas)

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