Woolworths Holdings booked a rise in first-half profits today (18 February) but sounded a cautious note on the South African and Australian markets.

Profits grew by 4.9% to ZAR11.69bn (US$1.53bn) for the 26 weeks to 27 December.

Adjusted headline earnings per share, which excludes the post-tax foreign exchange impact of ZAR41.6m, increased by 13.8% to 80.1 cents per share.

Net sales increased 9.3% to reach ZAR11.55bn, while clothing and general merchandise sales were up 9.7% with market share gains made for the last nine months. Comparable store sales rose 6.2%.

At the upmarket Country Road fashion business, sales for the period were 12.6% up on last year with comparable store sales of 4.7%.

The company said customer reaction to the new Trenery brand in both Australia and South Africa has been "positive."

CEO SN Susman said: "Conditions in South Africa and Australia will remain challenging. In South Africa, the upper income consumer is more confident.

"As we move out of recession, the group is better positioned to take advantage of any upliftment in consumer spending."