* Year profit from recurring ops up 8 pct, tops guidance
* Net debt/EBITDA ratio at 4.4 times at end-June
* Start of FY 2011-12 confirms resilience of markets
* Shares down after in-line earnings, no detailed guidance
(Recasts with CEO comments to Reuters, shares, analysts)
By Dominique Vidalon and Pascale Denis
PARIS, Sept 1 (Reuters) - French spirits group Pernod Ricard said it was confident about its growth prospects after strong Asian markets lifted its 2010-11 annual earnings and helped defy a fragile global economy.
The world’s second-largest spirits group after Britain’s Diageo said the start of the new fiscal year confirmed the resilience of its markets thanks to brands like Absolut vodka and Martell cognac, and strong demand from emerging countries.
Pernod ruled out major acquisitions as it continues to focus on debt reduction, Chief Executive Pierre Pringuet told Reuters in a telephone interview on Thursday. Pernod aims to cut its debt to core earnings ratio to near 4 by June 30, 2012.
“We are delivering a message of confidence and confirming that we will grow this fiscal year,” Pringuet told Reuters.
“For the first quarter we are fully in line with the big trends seen in the full year 2010-2011,” he added.
The shares company’s shares, however, were down 1.3 percent at 61.66 euros in morning trade.
“The lack of guidance and this morning’s figures that were in line with forecasts might disappoint slightly, after very positive guidance targets given by Diageo last week,” a sector analyst said.
Diageo last week set new financial targets, looking to grow underlying sales annually by 6 percent, improve margins and to grow earnings by a double-digit percentage in the medium term.
Typically, Pernod will wait until the release of its first-quarter sales on Oct. 20 to detail a guidance for the current year to next June.
The owner of the Mumm and Perrier-Jouet champagne brands posted an underlying 8 percent rise in profit from recurring operations to 1.909 billion euros ($2.76 billion).
The increase was broadly in line with analysts’ expectations of 8.2 percent growth but better than Pernod’s own guidance for 7 percent growth in the fiscal year.
The share of recurring group profit attributable to emerging markets rose to 38 percent in the year from 33 percent.
Like Diageo, Pernod has a high exposure to premium spirits in emerging markets — a strength in the current climate. By contrast, brewer Heineken’s first half was marred by damp summer weather and weak consumer demand.
Pernod’s underlying group sales rose 7 percent to 7.643 billion euros, lifted by a 15 percent gain in Asia.
In the United States, where sales rose 2 percent, Pernod noted renewed growth of Absolut and strength for its Jameson Whisky. In Western Europe sales fell 2 percent, mostly hit by falling sales in austerity-plagued Greece and Spain.
Pernod shares have lost 11 percent this year, underperforming a 4 percent drop in the European sector . (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Will Waterman)