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Australia's Aurizon outlook beats forecasts; shares hit record high

An Aurizon coal train travels through the countryside in Muswellbrook, north of Sydney, Australia

(Reuters) - Rail operator Aurizon Holdings Ltd on Monday reported a 13% decline in full year underlying net profit after tax, hurt by increased spending on maintenance, but flagged it expects stronger earnings this year on higher coal hauling volumes.

Aurizon's shares rose as much as 3.8% in early trade to a record high of A$5.97 on the slightly higher than expected outlook for this year and after announcing it would buy back up to A$300 million ($204 million) of its shares.

Australia's top coal hauler resolved a dispute with its major mining customers in May over how much it can charge for rail access with a new 10-year agreement, and won contract extensions and increased volumes from key customer Glencore.

Underlying net profit after tax for the year to June fell to A$473.3 million from A$542.1 million a year earlier, however the result was better than analysts' estimates around A$445.5 million, according to Refinitiv data.

Aurizon said it expects full year 2020 earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) between A$880 million and A$930 million ($597 million to $631 million), up from A$829 million last year. Analysts had expected EBIT in 2020 of A$898 million.

The company forecast coal volumes would rise to between 220 million and 230 million tonnes this year, from 214 million tonnes last year as it extends a cost cutting drive.

Aurizon said on Monday it had decided not to split into separate rail network and haulage companies following a strategic review.

However it opted to separate the legal structure of the two businesses so they could raise debt separately, in line with their different risk profiles, which it expected would give the group additional debt capacity of around A$1.2 billion.

"There is also the opportunity for further capital management as an outcome from the legal and capital structure review," Chief Executive Andrew Harding told analysts on a conference call.


($1 = 1.4741 Australian dollars)


(Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru and Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Editing by Sonali Paul)