The unlisted Japanese brewer and spirits producer, Suntory, posted a net profit of Y11.28 billion for the first half of 2003, almost double last year's figure, with operating profits also up by 0.7%.

However, the 96% increase in net profit from the first half of 2002 was distorted by an accounting change in the first half last year relating to Suntory's US bottled water delivery business, Suntory Water Group.

Operating profits rose by 0.7% to Y31.66 billion on group sales 2.8% down at Y639.94 billion. The company attributed the improved profitability to a successful cost-cutting programme.

Suntory reported that combined alcohol sales were down by 11% at Y241.2 billion owing to weak demand for whisky and other spirits in the restaurant sector. Beer volumes fell by 3%, the company said, as a result of price rises in happoshu forced by the increase in excise on the low-malt beer.

However, Suntory said that its volume drop was not as steep as the 8% fall seen in the sector as a whole resulting in an increase in the company's market share which rose to a record high of 10.9% from 10.4%.

Suntory is forecasting group operating profit of Y88 billion for the full 2003 fiscal year, 12% up on 2002, with net profit rising by 48% to Y30 billion and sales up 2.5% at Y1.419 trillion.