* Stockland six-month profit slumps 56 pct from year ago
* Residential, retail earnings hit by housing downturn
* Shares fall to six-week low after earnings, outlook update (Recasts on outlook; adds market reaction, analyst and management quotes)
By Tom Westbrook
SYDNEY, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Australian residential developer Stockland Corporation posted a sharply lower half-year profit on Wednesday and warned that a property slump would limit its annual growth to the bottom end of its projection, driving its shares down.
The company is among the most exposed to the unravelling of Australia’s property boom because, as a retail landlord, it is also taking a hit as its mall tenants struggle with lower sales and tighter consumer spending.
“The near-term headwinds from retail and residential market conditions are a challenge for our business,” Stockland Chief Executive Mark Steinert said on a conference call with analysts.
“If you look at the last 5 years we’ve grown earnings at 7.5 percent per annum compound. Looking at the next part of the cycle we’re going to have considerably lower growth than that.”
The company said it expects its funds from operations (FFO), which measures underlying profitability, to grow just 5 percent on a per-share basis for the full year, versus an earlier prediction for a 5-7 percent rise.
The metric fell 6.7 percent to A$407 million ($292 million)for the six months to December, 9 percent below a Macquarie Bank forecast. Its net profit was A$300 million, down 56.2 percent from a year earlier.
Stockland’s results come at a time when tighter lending and taxes on foreigners have driven the steepest price drops in a generation in Australia, hitting earnings at companies from developers to banks, building suppliers and retailers.
Also on Wednesday, Australia’s biggest supermarket chain Woolworths Group Ltd warned of a prolonged slump in consumer sentiment as it posted slowing sales and a lower-than-expected first-half profit.
The soft market and an unseasonally strong comparable year-earlier period pushed Stockland’s residential revenue, which accounts for more than half of its total revenue, down 24 percent to A$658 million over the six months.
FFO from its town-centre shopping malls fell 1 percent.
Stockland shares dropped 4 percent to their lowest since early January, in a broader market that was steady.
The company is “definitely heading in to some stiff breezes on various fronts”, said Andrew Parsons, executive director at fund manager Resolution Capital.
“It’s not going to get any easier for them to execute.” ($1 = 1.3963 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Tom Westbrook in Sydney. Additional reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Editing by Chris Reese, Matthew Lewis and Himani Sarkar)