* Raises FY operating pft forecast to $340 mln-$370 mln
* H1 operating profit jumped 17%, helped by U.S. business
* Australian housing market still facing poor conditions (Adds earnings details, share move, analyst comment)
By Shreya Mariam Job and Shriya Ramakrishnan
Nov 7 (Reuters) - James Hardie Industries, the world's biggest fibre cement maker, on Thursday raised full-year profit guidance after an improving U.S. housing market helped it post a 17% jump in first-half earnings, lifting its shares to their highest ever.
The company, based in Dublin but listed in Sydney, hoisted its operating profit forecast for the 12 months through March 2020 to $340 million-$370 million, up from an earlier forecast of $325 million-$365 million. That measure excludes one-off items such as compensation payments for asbestos-related illness claims.
Shares soared as much as 9.5% to a record of A$27.05 as the company also declared a first-half dividend of 10 cents per share.
The company said its operating profit for the first half ended September climbed to $188.8 million, underpinned by a strong performance in its North America housing business. Fibre cement is a composite material using in the building trade principally in roofing and facades.
With the United States being James Hardie's biggest earnings driver, data showing the U.S. housing sector stabilising on the back of lower interest and mortgage rates further supports its expectations from North American business.
But while it raised the primary demand growth target range for its North American fibre cement operation to 4-6%, it warned it sees a "high single-digit percent contraction" in Australia's housing market in the 2020 fiscal year amid a sector decline that has already prompted other warnings.
"For the Australia market in terms of building activity it is heading into a much weaker 12 months," said Jun Bei Liu, a portfolio manager at Tribeca Investment Partners.
Building products firm Boral Ltd on Wednesday warned of a weaker first half in fiscal 2020, citing Australia's softer housing market.
"James Hardie is different because they have big exposure from North America and the momentum in that market has been incredible," portfolio manager Liu said. (Reporting by Shreya Mariam Job and Shriya Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru Editing by Chris Reese and Kenneth Maxwell)