Australia's ASX Profit Beats Forecasts, Outlook Upbeat

Australia's ASX, operator of Asia's third-largest listed bourse, is confident about its growth prospects for this year, with companies stepping up float plans, it said, after beating analysts' first-half profit forecasts.

ASX's shares rose 1.8 percent, in a weaker broader market.

The operator of the Australian Securities Exchange said the outlook for initial public offerings was healthy based on the enquiries it had received and expected the solid flow of secondary share sales to continue.

The exchange has not enjoyed the stream of big initial public offerings that boosted Asia's biggest listed bourse, Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing in late 2009, but fared better than Singapore Exchange with secondary share sales.

While it gave no profit forecast, the ASX outlook appeared more upbeat than analysts' views. Brokers on Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S expect 5 percent profit growth this year.

Capital raising by companies, a major contributor to operating revenue, jumped one-third in the December half to A$59 billion, mostly due to a flood of secondary share sales as companies sought to raise cash to pay down debt.

Secondary raisings accounted for A$52 billion of the A$59 billion.

"If they can maintain their secondary listing revenues in the second half, that would be a very good outcome," Credit Suisse analyst Arjan van Veen said.

"Lower secondary capital raisings revenue in future periods is a key headwind for the stock."

ASX said sovereign debt quality concerns offshore would make equity and bond markets more volatile, and warned that the outlook for the year to June 2011 would depend on the strength of the local and global economic recovery.

Net profit before one-offs dipped to A$170.6 million ($153.4 million) for the six months to December from A$171.9 million a year earlier, beating six analysts' average forecast for A$164.6 million. It was ASX's weakest first-half profit in three years.

Operating revenue rose 5.7 percent to A$302.8 million, boosted by the secondary share sales.

Its interest income was halved as interest rates were lower than a year earlier and margin balances shrank as the market was less volatile.

To help drive growth, ASX has introduced new products, like renewable energy certificates.

It is set to lose its supervisory role over the market later in 2010, as all market supervision gets centralised in the hands of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission.

After that, the government has said it would consider applications for market licenses from potential rivals to ASX, like AXE ECN, a joint venture between New Zealand exchange operator NZX and six major brokerages.