By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian building materials giant James Hardie Industries Plc on Tuesday forecast a potential rise in full year profit as it reported steady first quarter earnings due to Americans turning to home renovation in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The guidance, which sent the company’s shares higher, strikes a rare optimistic note at a time when many industries face profit declines due to shutdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Dozens of Australian companies have withdrawn guidance because of uncertainty caused by the outbreak.
James Hardie, the world No. 1 maker of fibre cement sheeting, said underlying profit dipped just 1% in the three months to end-June, from the same period a year earlier. Sales in North America, its main market, remained steady, while shutdowns hammered sales in its Europe and Asia Pacific divisions.
The Sydney-listed company said it now expects underlying profit of between $330 million and $390 million in the year to March 2021, potentially bettering the previous year’s $352.8 million.
James Hardie shares jumped as much as 7.6% in morning trade, close to the stock’s record closing high in February before concern about the virus upended global markets. The broader Australian share market <.axjo> was up 0.9%.
The company’s guidance was “a confident signal, with most U.S. construction-exposed companies choosing to provide only one quarter of guidance,” said Credit Suisse analysts in a research note.
James Hardie Chief Executive Jack Truong said the guidance was based on improving home building and renovation in the United States since May. Truong added the projection did not factor in the possibility of a second or third wave of the virus in the United States where “half the country has to be shut down for weeks or months”.
To date, U.S. homebuilding has gradually recovered, bolstered by historically low borrowing rates and stronger demand for living and working in suburbs as companies let employees work from home in the pandemic.
The company’s statutory net profit, which sets aside money to compensate people made sick by its discontinued asbestos products, slumped 89%.
(Reporting by Byron Kaye in Sydney and A K Pranav and Arundhati Dutta in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath and Jane Wardell)