* Treasury H1 net profit A$219.2 mln vs A$187.2 mln prior year
* Asia sales, including China, up 32.4 percent to A$393.8 mln
* Company says direct sales help it beat slower China demand (Adds CEO comments, analyst comments, shares)
By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates Ltd toasted yet another record half-year profit, as a self-distribution model in China helped the winemaker defy weaker consumer spending in the world’s second-largest economy.
The owner of the Penfolds, Beringer and Wolf Blass labels also said it was counting on more growth in China, sending its shares up as much as 4 percent.
“We are not seeing a slowdown in demand for our brands,” Treasury Wine CEO Mike Clarke said on an analyst call, referring to the company’s biggest export destination, China.
The world’s largest standalone winemaker plans to grow its footprint in China by 50 percent in three years by number of potential customers, and buy assets in France to capitalise on Chinese appetite for the European country’s product, he added.
The sparkling update comes despite a broader concern about weaker demand in China for products ranging from high-end fashion to milk powder as its economy slows, exacerbated by a bitter trade war with the United States.
Apple has issued a rare revenue warning, citing weaker iPhone sales in China. Australian wine exports to the country are also feeling the heat, with growth hitting its slowest pace in four years.
Against the odds, Treasury Wine reported a 17 percent spike in net profit to A$219 million ($156 million) for the six months to Dec. 31, its highest ever. Its pre-tax profit for the period came in at A$338.3 million, within a company-provided guidance.
The Melbourne-headquartered company, which has been skirting the China weakness by using a direct-delivery model to push product straight to buyers, expects its pre-tax profit to grow 25 percent in the year to June and 15-20 percent in fiscal 2020.
Treasury Wine ships globally, but its sales to China have become closely watched since it is one of Australia’s most exposed companies to Chinese consumer appetites.
Its Asia sales, which include China, surged 32.4 percent to A$393.9 million from the same period a year earlier. U.S. sales rose 20 percent while Europe sales grew 9 percent.
The company declared an interim dividend of 18 cents per share, up from 15 cents a year earlier.
Shares of the A$12 billion winemaker rose as much as 4 percent as investors cheered the results, but gains were capped by worries about its smaller than usual “cash conversion” rate, a measure of how quickly it is being paid for sales.
The company said it received less cash than its reported profit implied because Chinese customers had delayed deliveries until after Jan. 1, when tariffs fell to zero under a free trade agreement between the two countries.
“Sometimes it’s a timing issue, sometimes it’s sorted out, but ... that’s the part that’s caught the market by surprise,” said Danial Moradi, an equities strategist at Lonsec Research. ($1 = 1.4055 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Nikhil Subba and Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru; editing by Byron Kaye and Himani Sarkar)