* H1 net profit A$1.58 bln vs A$1.51 bln consensus
* Interim dividend A$1.03 vs A$0.91
* Industrials EBIT A$377 mln vs A$22 mln
(Recasts on coal price impact, adds fund manager comment)
By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY, Feb 15 Australian retail-to-mining
conglomerate Wesfarmers Ltd unveiled a record
first-half profit as a boom in coal prices offset a decline in
supermarket earnings - a result that has investors rethinking
concerns about its diverse holdings.
The result has also put the spotlight on whether Wesfarmers
will continue to look at selling its coal mines in a deal that
sector participants have said may fetch A$2 billion.
The company's earnings statement offered little comment on
the potential sale except to say it was still reviewing the
assets and there was no certainty of a transaction.
Net profit for Australia's biggest company by sales rose 13
percent to A$1.58 billion ($1.2 billion) for the six months to
the end of December, better than the average forecast of A$1.51
billion from three analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Australian No. 2 supermarket chain Coles, which generates
about 40 percent of Wesfarmers' earnings, saw profit before
interest and tax slide 2.6 percent, including one-off gains from
asset sales. Excluding those one-offs, Coles earnings dropped
But the West Australian conglomerate's industrials unit,
which owns one of Australia's biggest collieries producing
nearly 12 million tonnes of coal annually, saw profit soar to
A$377 million from A$22 million..
The additional earnings offset the A$25 million earnings
slump from Coles many times over, helping investors reconsider
objections to the company's myriad business interests.
"Previously it has been picked apart (but) the market is now
saying Wesfarmers is able to manage this large range of moving
parts that form the business," said James McGlew, executive
director of Argonaut, a Western Australia brokerage which holds
It also raised its interim dividend to A$1.03 versus A$0.91
in the same period a year earlier.
Wesfarmers shares were up 2 percent by mid-morning trade,
hitting their highest intraday level since October, while the
broader market was up 0.9 percent.
The company also said it is now considering an initial
public offering of its stationery retail unit, Officeworks,
whose profit grew by 5.1 percent to A$62 million.
In addition to the potential sale of its coal mines,
Wesfarmers has been setting out plans to exit other non-core
assets as it and bigger rival Woolworths Ltd seek to
fend off competition from the likes of Germany's ALDI Inc
in the A$100 billion grocery sector.
Wesfarmers posted results a day after reporting that it
promoted the head of its resources, energy and fertiliser
division, Rob Scott, to group chief executive officer. He
succeeds Richard Goyder, CEO of 12 years, who previously said he
was planning to quit.
($1 = 1.3063 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)