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UPDATE 1-South African budget retailer Mr Price expects tough first half

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JOHANNESBURG, May 31 (Reuters) - South African budget retailer Mr Price Group reported a 6.2% rise in full-year earnings on Friday, as its apparel and homeware businesses gained market share.

Mr Price, known for its no-frills clothing and furniture stores, said market conditions were tough but it expects to perform better in the second half of the new financial year.

Its diluted headline earnings per share (HEPS) totalled 1 rand 142 cents for the year ended March 30, compared with 1 rand 75 cents in the year-ago period.

HEPS is the main profit measure in South Africa and strips out certain one-off items.

Retailers in South Africa are struggling to boost sales growth as an increase in value-added tax, unemployment, and higher fuel as well as utility prices have reduced consumers' spending power.

That has created a low growth environment for retailers competing for market share, resulting in strong promotional activity.

"Despite this, both our apparel and homeware segments outperformed the market and gained market share on an annual basis," Chief Executive Officer Mark Blair, who took the helm in January, said.

Total revenue grew 5.8%, with retail sales up by 4.4% to 20.9 billion rand, exceeding 20 billion rand for the first time, Blair said. While comparable store sales rose 1.6%.

The apparel business, which comprises Mr Price, Miladys and Mr Price Sport, saw retail sales and other income (RSOI) rise by 3.8% to 15.6 billion rand.

The home segment, which includes Sheet Street and Mr Price Home, increased RSOI by 5.9% to 5.3 billion rand.

The retailer has more than 1,200 stores across Africa. It said it had also created new roles of Chief Operating Officer and Chief Retail Officer, but did not say who had been appointed to fill those positions.

Mr Price said the national elections on May 8 delivered a "positive outcome" which it hopes will lead to reformed economic policies that will encourage business growth and job creation.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, inaugurated last Saturday, has vowed to create jobs and tackle deep-rooted corruption that has strangled economic growth.

"Hopefully this could be the start of an upward swing in the retail cycle, but any improvements are expected to be gradual and we are therefore anticipating a very tough first half of the new financial year," Blair said.

"The second half should see an improvement due to the base effect and impact of internal initiatives coming through."

The Durban-based firm, which also has a presence in Australia, paid shareholders a dividend of 424.80 cents a share, up 2.6%. (Reporting by Nqobile Dludla, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Susan Fenton)