Australian wine group, BRL Hardy, posted net profit for 2001 of A$72.2 million (US$37.8m), 14% up on 2000. The uplift was attributed to robust sales in the UK and Europe. Managing director, Stephen Millar, said that the outlook for 2002 was "extremely positive," in spite of difficult conditions in Australia and in export markets.

The improvement continues an unbroken sequence of profit and sales increases recorded by BRL Hardy since it first listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 1992.

BRL Hardy said that earnings in 2002 would be driven by continued growth in Europe and in New Zealand as well as a "significantly higher" contribution from its US joint venture with Constellation Brands, Pacific Wine Partners. However, the start-up costs associated with Pacific Wine Partners did cost the group in 2001 with North American EBIT falling by 30% to around A$5m.

The company said it was predicting EBIT of four or five times the 2001 total for 2002 from North America. 2002 will also include the first full-year contribution from the group's recently acquired Californian winery, Blackstone.

EBIT from Australasia was 10% higher while BRL Hardy's international business, principally the group's operations in the UK and Europe, showed a 29% rise in EBIT.

Analysts' net profit forecasts for 2002 average at just under A$90 million and Millar said he was "reasonably comfortable" with forecasts in the mid to high-eighties. Sales in 2001 rose by 20% to A$771.4m while pretax profit grew from A$86m to A$101.9m.