Poor weather and rising costs have failed to hinder Lion Nathan, which has posted a healthy set of figures for the first half of its financial year.

The trans-Tasman drinks company, which is 46%-owned by Japan's Kirin, said today (20 May) that operating net profit for the six months to the end of March rose by 7% year-on-year, coming in at A$167.7m (US$160.8m). The increase came on the back of rising sales in the period, up by 7.9% to A$1.12bn in the period.

The sales lift was credited in part to "successful brand investment and new product development in our core businesses", company CEO Rob Murray said. Also credited was the earlier timing of Easter and the inclusion of almost three months of trading from Boag - the Australian brewer Lion Nathan purchased in January last year.

Higher input costs and poor weather conditions in several Australian regions failed to dampen the performance, Lion Nathan noted.

"We have continued to produce strong earnings and cash flow while increasing investment in our brands, our breweries and our people to achieve higher sustainable long-term NPAT (net profit after tax) growth," Murray added.

The company warned, however, that raw material costs are expected to rise in the second half of this year, and rise again in 2009 by between A$30m and A$36m. "Plans are in place to recover these input cost increases in 2008 and 2009," Lion Nathan said.

The recent tax hike on RTDs in Australia will lead to growth in the sector slowing "significantly", the company said.

The company's board has declared an interim dividend of A$0.20 per share, a rise of 5.3% on the dividend paid for the corresponding period a year earlier.

Going forward, Lion Nathan confirmed its full year NPAT guidance range of between A$265m and A$275m, with a "significant" step-up in earnings forecast for FY09.