UPDATE 1-James Hardie raises earnings forecast after profit surge, declares special dividend

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Feb 9 (Reuters) - James Hardie Industries Plc posted a 59% rise in third-quarter profit, raised its fiscal 2021 earnings forecast and declared a special dividend, riding on strong demand for its fibre cement products from a booming U.S. housing market.

The company said it was now expecting an adjusted net operating profit of $440 million to $450 million, compared with its prior forecast of $380 million to $420 million.

The world’s biggest maker of fibre cement products declared a special dividend of 70 cents per share, and said it was planning to resume paying dividends on a regular basis in fiscal 2022 after suspending it since May.

Chief Financial Officer Jason Miele expressed confidence in the group’s strong cash generation and said the special dividend payment was appropriate at this time.

James Hardie’s North American business, its biggest earner, brought in $155.6 million in earnings before interest and tax for the quarter, a 39% rise from a year earlier.

Low mortgage rates have helped the U.S. housing market shrug off the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as more people consider a move to suburban areas from densely populated city centers.

The company’s adjusted net operating profit rose to $123.3 million for the quarter ended Dec. 31 from $77.4 million a year earlier. It beat a Citi estimate of $107.2 million. (Reporting by Arpit Nayak in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M. And Anil D’Silva)