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AWB Australia First-Half Profit Rises 89%

AWB, Australia's largest wheat exporter, said on Wednesday its half-year net profit rose 89 percent to A$22.3 million (US$21.4 million), after good results from its Landmark rural services division.

The result is after items including a one-off provision of A$26.4 million for a possible liability from litigation by Standard Chartered Bank against AWB (USA) over a disputed Indonesian soybean deal.

Before items, net profit rose 96 percent to A$48.7 million.

"This is a solid result that shows the rebuilding of the company is starting to generate better returns," AWB chairman Brendan Stewart said in a statement.

The result is up from a profit of A$11.8 million in the 2007 March first half, when profits slumped by 71 percent because of drought and suspension of AWB's wheat export monopoly.

Profit before items is in line with a revised forecast of a first-half net profit of between A$45 million and A$52 million issued last month after a better-than-expected performance by Landmark, which provides rural merchandise, fertilizers, livestock, real estate and farm finance.

AWB will pay an unchanged dividend of 4 cents a share for the half year.

AWB managing director Gordon Davis said an excellent performance by Landmark was driven by strong merchandise, chemical and fertilizer sales with improving agricultural activity after recent rains, primarily in Australia's eastern states.

The group is exporting its last Australian wheat crop as a government-granted monopoly. From July 1 it will be competing with new entrants to the wheat export field.

AWB has appealed the Standard Chartered judgement in the U.S.

The shares lost over 60 percent of their value in 2006 over a scandal involving the payment of kickbacks to the former Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein to secure sales.

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