UPDATE 2-Starwood Hotels forecasts strong first quarter as demand 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 chains include Sheraton and Westin, reported a better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit and said demand is growing in all its important geographies, including Europe.
Starwood, which focuses on upscale customers, is benefiting as a business-led recovery is driving hotel occupancy rates, mainly in the United States - its largest market. Demand in its other two important geographies, Asia and Europe, is also picking up.
"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.
Starwood, which also franchises the W, St. Regis and Le Meridien brands, runs its hotel and leisure business directly and through subsidiaries.
The company 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.
Starwood said in October business had slowed in Asia and Europe, and cut its 2012 forecast for revPAR (revenue per available room), a key metric for the hotel industry.
Now, however, a "dramatic" economic growth in Asia, Latin America, Middle East and Africa was fueling demand for Starwood's brands worldwide, CEO Paasschen said. RevPAR is likely to grow by 5 to 7 percent in 2013, the company said.
For the fourth-quarter, Starwood earned 70 cents per share from continuing operations excluding one-time items, 5 cents above what analysts were expecting on average.
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 rose more than 5 percent to $101 million.
Shares of the company, which have gained about 18 percent in value in the last three months, closed at $62.60 on Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.