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Westfield Group says net profit rose

SYDNEY, Australia --Westfield Group, the world's largest operator of shopping malls, said Tuesday its net profit rose 31.5 percent in the last calendar year, boosted by property revaluations and increased demand across its global shopping mall portfolio.

The company said 2006 net profit rose to 5.58 billion Australian dollars (US$4.43 billion; euro3.36 billion) from A$4.24 billion in 2005. Full-year revenue rose 32.5 percent to A$9.2 billion (US$7.3 billion; euro5.5 billion).

Property revaluations increased to A$4.58 billion (US$3.64 billion; euro2.76 billion) from A$2.84 billion in 2005, while operating profit rose 8.5 percent to A$1.65 billion (US$1.31 billion; euro993 million).

Westfield managing directors, Peter Lowy and Steven Lowy, said in a joint statement that the 2006 result highlighted the strength of Westfield's business model.

"The two key contributing factors to the overall result for the year were a solid operational performance across the global portfolio and the successful delivery of 12 development projects," they said.

"We continue to operate in a solid retail environment in all markets with strong demand for retail space in both our existing centers and development projects," they added

Westfield said it had benefited from strong occupancy rates, as well as shopping mall net operating income growth of 5.7 percent in Australia and New Zealand, 3 percent in the United States and 6.3 percent in the United Kingdom.

During 2006, the group completed A$2 billion (US$1.6 billion; euro1.2 billion) of development projects in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Westfield has interests in 121 shopping malls across Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, encompassing 22,750 retail outlets.

Sydney-based Westfield said it was targeting a distribution of 106.5 cents per security in 2007, which will be met by an increase in operational segment earnings.

Westfield stock fell 2.15 percent to A$22.26 (US$17.67; euro13.43) as investors took profits.

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