February 14, 2017 / 10:10 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 2-Australia's Wesfarmers logs record first-half profit as coal prices surge

* 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 (Reuters) - 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 6.8 percent.

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 Wesfarmers shares.

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

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