By Matthew Henry

SYDNEY: Fisher & Paykel chairman Gary Paykel today announced a 18.7 per cent increase in group profit for the first half of the 2008 financial year and said appliance sales should pick up for the Australian summer when the federal election is out of the way.

While Paykel said interest rate rises were expected to hurt the New Zealand market in the coming months, no such prediction was made about Australia despite yesterday’s 0.25 per cent rate rise.

Instead, the appliance maker suggested that sales should strengthen from December onwards.

“The Australian market has stabilised and shown a slight increase over the past six months,” said Paykel in today’s statement

“The disappointing refrigeration sales experienced over the summer last year are not expected to reoccur this year. A general market lift is expected after the federal election in late November.”

Fisher & Paykel’s profit after tax for the six months to 30 September grew 18.7 per cent to $32.3 million, with revenue up in all appliance markets.

However, the rises were evident in some markets more than others. Australia and Europe fared well with 11.1 per cent and 28.6 per cent increases in appliance sales for the period respectively, while New Zealand (1.3 per cent) and the USA (0.4 per cent) grew more modestly.

“The Australian market has shown a slight recovery when compared with last year, up two to three per cent,” said Paykel.

“The new products released over the past six months, including Ice and Water refrigeration and AquaSmart washers have assisted in lifting sales revenue and market share.”

Sales of cooking appliances from the Elba factory in Italy also helped F&P continue its penetration into new markets, with Rest of World sales lifting 17 per cent during the period.

After one-off items, group profit after tax was $29.3 million for an increase of over four million dollars on the same period a year ago.

While Paykel was buoyant in his predictions for the business through the second half of the financial year, he said the global trading environment holds some uncertainties.

“Raw material pricing remains uncertain. Steel, plastics, chemicals and copper prices remain at high levels and their future price direction is unclear. The business continues to direct its focus on the ongoing cost out programme in order to minimize the effects of possible upward movement in raw materials and improve margins,” he said.