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Saudi’s Almarai cites sales growth for 15 pct profit jump

In the three months to Dec. 31 the company made net earnings of 428 million riyals ($114 million)

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Sales growth for dairy, poultry and juice products helped Almarai to post quarterly profit in line with analyst forecasts, the Saudi Arabian company said on Sunday, despite a fire at its bakery business in November.

The Gulf's largest dairy company, which is benefiting from rising demand from Saudi Arabia's 29 million population and has also gained market share elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, reported a near-15 percent rise in fourth-quarter net profit.

In the three months to Dec. 31 the company made net earnings of 428 million riyals ($114 million), up from 373.3 million riyals in the same period of 2013, it said in a statement to the Riyadh bourse.

The average forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts was 427.7 million riyals.

Almarai had previously said the fire that destroyed one of its bakeries and damaged another was not expected to have a "material adverse impact" on its financial position.

Its statement on Sunday said that higher expenses related to sales, distribution and administration had weighed on results, along with infrastructure expansion across different products and geographies.

Under a deal with U.S. soft drinks giant PepsiCo, the two companies will invest at least $345 million in Egypt over the next five years, it said in June.

For the full year, Almarai reported net profit of 1.67 billion riyals, up 11.5 percent on 2013. Sales were up 12.4 percent from 2013.

Shares in Almarai, which last month proposed a cash dividend of 1 riyal per share for 2014, fell 1.2 percent on Sunday. The earnings statement was released after the market closed.