(Corrects second-half to first-half in fourth paragraph)
By Massimo Gaia
MILAN, July 25 (Reuters) - Italian hearing aid group Amplifon said it expected results in the second half of the year to improve as Asian and U.S. markets continued to grow and a sales slump in the Netherlands eased.
Sales in the Netherlands, Amplifon’s fourth biggest European market, plunged 26.5 percent in the first half hurt by regulatory uncertainty and a consumer-protection television show that complained about high prices of hearing aid systems, adding to weakness in other European markets.
“In the Netherlands sales in July have shown a significant improvement,” Amplifon Chief Executive Franco Moscetti said in an interview with Reuters after the release of forecast-busting first-half results. “The (overall) situation is set to improve.”
Shares in Amplifon closed up 7.5 percent at 3.03 euros, outperforming a 0.8 percent rise in the Milan’s all-share stock index. The stock had suffered in recent weeks as analysts forecast lower first-half core-earnings and net income.
But double-digit growth in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific more than offset a drop in high-margin European markets, driving first-half revenues up 1.7 percent to 407.4 million euros ($492 mln). Core earnings fell 3 percent to 62.3 million euros.
Both figures topped analysts’ consensus expectations.
Amplifon, who competes against France’s Audika, strengthened its position in the Asia-Pacific with the 2010 purchases of Australia’s NHC Group. In the States it managed to turn around a loss-making business run under the Sonus and Miracle Ear brands.
“Our strategy of geographic diversification proved to be right,” Moscetti said.
He said Amplifon, which has a network of more than 3,000 shops globally, intended to continue expanding in India, where earlier this week it bought 38 shops to take advantage of a 15 percent annual market rise.
Moscetti also said the group was looking into possible acquisitions in markets with high margins and where its presence was too small, particularly in Germany. ($1 = 0.8275 euros) (Editing by William Hardy)