Leighton posts profit, moves on from past

Leighton Holdings says the past is behind it after it swung back to profit with a figure at the top of guidance and a forecast of further growth in the year ahead.

The construction giant posted a net profit of $450.1 million in the 12 months to December 31, after recording a $285.5 million loss for calendar 2011.

The company's 2011 result was marred by more than $200 million in write-downs on the Brisbane AirportLink (APL) and Victorian desalination plant (VDP) projects.

Chief executive Hamish Tyrwhitt also forecast an underlying net profit of $520 million to $600 million for calendar year 2013, subject to market conditions.

Investors liked the outlook, sending Leighton's shares more than 5.0 per cent stronger, up $1.08 to $21.89 by 1130 AEDT.

The stock is nearly 50 per cent higher since August.

"I don't want to harp on the past but the last time about six months ago, when I was doing investor presentations it was obviously all about AirportLink and VDP and could we finish them," Mr Tyrwhitt told AAP.

"Despite all the sceptics out there, both of those jobs were completed ahead of what we actually communicated to the market, the last of the legacy projects are done."

The company's positive outlook is related to optimism about urbanisation and economic growth above seven per cent a year in China and elsewhere in Asia, in connection with Leighton's high exposure to the resources and construction industries.

Leighton's underlying net profit, which excludes one-off financial items, was $448 million, up from a loss of $229 million in 2011.

Total annual revenue increased by three per cent to $18.95 billion.

A half-franked final dividend of 60 cents will be paid, in line with last year's payment.

While net debt increased in 2012 to $914 million, from $641 million, its gearing level was reduced to 35 per cent, from 46 per cent six months ago.

The company now had approved a new gearing target of 25 to 35 per cent this year, Mr Tyrwhitt said.

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