The Antipodean-based beer and wine group Lion Nathan has seen an 11% increase in its full year net profits, on the back of strong performances in its beer divisions.

Net profits reached A$180.1m for 2002/03, and CEO Gordon Cairns said he expected similar growth rates in this financial year. "Our aspiration is for another year of NPAT growth," he said. "I'm in the A$195-200m range."

The company's sales rose 6.7% to A$1.83 billion from A$1.71 billion a year earlier.

Cairns called the results a high quality outcome "in what has been, at times, a challenging environment." In particular he was referring to tough conditions in Asia following the outbreak of SARS earlier this year.

The beer divisions in New Zealand and Australia drove the figures forward, with EBITA from its Australian beer division up 5% to A$330.5m, while earnings from New Zealand rose 4.6% to NZ$96.9m.

The total beer operations delivered EBITA, up 9.1% to A$406.1m.

However, this was tempered to some degree by the company's wine business, which Cairns conceded was "disappointing" as the international wine markets remained competitive.

Lion Nathan's premium wine business reported EBITA of A$13.2m, down 17% from a year earlier.

Encouragingly, the Chinese beer operations seem to be turning a corner. After reporting losses for seven years, the Chinese business reported a 30% jump in volume growth in the latest year, helping to halve losses to A$6.2m. EBITDA was at breakeven.