UPDATE 2-Forecast-beating Richemont profit eases Asia demand fears
* Richemont sees FY net profit up 30 pct on year
* Net profit would beat views averaging 1.928 bln euros
* Shares up over 5 percent
* Full-year results expected May 16 (Adds more analyst comment, background, shares)
By Katharina Bart
ZURICH, April 23 (Reuters) - Cartier watches maker Richemont said full-year profit would beat expectations, easing fears about a sharp slowdown in demand for luxury goods in Asia, the engine of the industry's recent growth.
The Swiss group, which also makes Montblanc pens and Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery, said on Tuesday its net profit rose around 30 percent in the year ended March 31, helped by favourable foreign exchange moves.
That would equate to around 2 billion euros ($2.6 billion), ahead of analysts' average forecast of 1.93 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Richemont also said sales rose 9 percent at constant exchange rates, which some analysts said suggested a pick-up in growth in the fourth quarter, after a weak end to 2012.
"The clear positive is organic growth, which appeared to accelerate in the fourth quarter to over 7 percent after only 5 percent in the third quarter, so the worst of growth deceleration may be over," Kepler Capital Markets analyst Jon Cox said.
Richemont shares, down 9.5 percent over the past three months, were up 5.5 percent to 71.9 Swiss francs by 0905 GMT.
Luxury stocks are highly sensitive to signs of changes in demand from Asia, which has been the driving force of their growth in recent years amid recession in Europe.
While most firms point to a moderation in demand, it is unclear how quickly it is cooling and there are big changes from one quarter to the next and from one company to another.
French luxury brand Hermes blamed weakness in China for a 5 percent decline in watch sales in the first quarter to March but said it expected demand for timepieces to improve later in the year.
However, Burberry reported better-than-expected quarterly results, helped by demand from Asia for its most expensive handbags and coats.
The Asia-Pacific region excluding Japan accounts for more than 42 percent of Richemont's annual sales. Investors have been concerned that the regime change in China which triggered a crackdown on customary gifts for favours - which often involved watches - would hit its business.
Data on Tuesday showed Swiss watch exports fell 5.4 percent in March, less than the 7.1 percent fall in February, when shipments to important markets Hong Kong and China saw double-digit declines.
Richemont did not give details on its fourth-quarter figures. It said it was releasing full-year, headline numbers to comply with market rules on informing investors about big changes in results compared with the previous year.
It will publish full earnings on May 16.
The group said reported sales would rise around 14 percent and operating profit around 18 percent. That would equate to sales of just over 10 billion euros, compared with analysts' average forecast of 10.15 billion, and operating profit of about 2.41 billion, versus an average forecast of 2.4 billion.
"Net profit beats views, and it is comforting that there is not going to be a disappointment at EBIT (operating profit) level either," Zuercher Kantonalbank analyst Patrik Schwendimann said. Schwendimann, who downgraded the stock to market weight in January, upgraded the shares to overweight on the news.
($1 = 0.7674 euros) (Additional reporting by Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by Mark Potter)
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