UPDATE 1-Starwood Hotels profit beats Street as business travel picks up
* First-quarter EPS forecast $0.51-$0.54 vs est $0.48
* Adjusted EPS $0.70 vs est $0.65
* Sees 2013 revPAR growing by 5 to 7 percent
Feb 7 (Reuters) - Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc , whose brands include Sheraton and Westin, reported a better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit on higher room and occupancy rates, and said it expects demand to be higher this year.
"We are poised to benefit from higher rates in North America and Europe, where demand is growing but supply is already short," Chief Executive Frits van Paasschen said in a statement.
A business-led recovery has helped lift U.S. hotel occupancy rates in recent months.
"Even more important, the dramatic economic growth in Asia, Latin America, Middle East and Africa is fueling demand for our brands worldwide," Paasschen said.
Starwood, which also franchises the W, St. Regis and Le Meridien brands, forecast first-quarter earnings of 51 cents to 54 cents per share, topping analysts' expectations of 48 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company expects revPAR (revenue per available room), a key metric to measure hotel health, to grow by 5 to 7 percent in 2013.
Excluding one-time items, the company earned 70 cents per share from continuing operations in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31. Analysts on average were expecting 65 cents per share.
Net income from continuing operations fell to $65 million, or 33 cents per share, from $158 million, or 80 cents per share, a year earlier.
Selling, general, administrative and other expenses for the quarter rose more than 5 percent to $101 million.
Starwood shares closed at $62.60 on Wednesday the New York Stock Exchange. They have gained about 18 percent in value in the last three months.