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Asciano posts strong profit growth

Ports and rail operator Asciano has increased its first half profit by 74 per cent and forecast more earnings growth in the second half of the financial year.

Asciano made a net profit of $199.9 million in the six months to December 31, up from $114.8 million in the previous corresponding period.

Revenue in the six months to December of $1.87 billion was up 10 per cent from $1.7 billion in the same period in the previous year.

Profit growth was driven by significant growth in volumes in Asciano's Pacific National coal haulage business due to new contracts, the company said on Tuesday.

Its ports business also experienced higher volumes, as activity from the resources sector rose and a record number of cars were imported, Asciano said.

The company said it expects earnings and revenue in the second half of the 2012/13 financial year to be higher than in the same period in the previous year.

Asciano chief executive John Mullen said that, based on the first six weeks of trading during the second half of the financial year, the group expected to report a rise in revenue and earnings before material items.

"We continue to believe that, based on the long-term customer contracts that underwrite all four divisions, we will report long-term earnings growth in line with previous forecasts, albeit the mix and timing will be slightly different from original forecasts given the variable market conditions," he said.

Asciano expects its PN Coal and Bulk & Automotive Port Services businesses to continue their strong performances, driven by new contracts, stronger regional port activity and the contribution from cargo handling unit C3 Ltd.

Improvements are also expected at the PN Rail division in the second half on the back of stronger export grain volumes.

Mr Mullen said that while current market conditions made forecasting volume growth for its Terminals & Logistics division difficult, Asciano did not expect the current flat market growth to deteriorate further.

"The Division will continue to focus on the redevelopment of Port Botany and driving improved customer performance, productivity and cost reduction in general given the uncertain volume outlook at the current time," he said.

Asciano lifted its fully-franked interim dividend to 5.25 cents a share from 3.5 cents.