The Australian beer and wine group, Lion Nathan, posted year-end net profit of A$162m ($91m), up some 20% from last year. The company has also forecast double-digit earnings growth for the coming fiscal year.

The result was slightly ahead of the A$160m figure which Lion Nathan had been forecasting for some time. Analysts had been predicting around A$161.5m. Lion Nathan said the performance was underpinned by stronger growth in the Australian and New Zealand beer sectors.

The group's CEO, Gordon Cairns, was happy to concur with the market forecast of around 11% profit growth for the 2003 fiscal year to A$180m ($101m). "I would be comfortable to say we are around A$180 (million), which would be another year of double-digit increase," he said.

The group said its brewing operations had performed strongly overall with earnings before interest, tax and amortisation (EBITA) for Australia, New Zealand and China up 9% at A$390m. Lion said wine volumes were up by 30% at 808,000 cases, with EBITA from wine standing at A$8.6m.

Lion Nathan reported that its operation in China had turned in a 27% volume increase while losses there were down by 24% to RMB64m ($7.7m).

The group expects to reach break-even point in China in around two years. "I think we are about 12-24 months away from breaking even at the cash line and we are about 24-36 months away from breaking even at the profit and loss line," Cairns said.