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UPDATE 2-S.Africa's Woolworths shares soar on expected profit surge

* Company estimates profits to rise by up to 60%

* Online sales in food, fashion more than double

* Strong results from retailers hint worst is over (Updates with shares prices)

JOHANNESBURG, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Shares in South Africa’s Woolworths Holdings Ltd rose more than 13% on Monday after the retailer said it expected its first-half headline earnings per share (HEPS) to jump 50%-60%.

Woolworths said its business was boosted by an improved business environment in the final six weeks of the period pushing up its HEPS to 2.47-2.64 rand ($0.1622-$0.1733) for the 26 weeks ending Dec. 27, compared to 1.65 rand a year earlier.

HEPS is the main profit measure in South Africa.

By 0850 GMT, its shares were trading 11.9% higher, after surging as more than 13% earlier, while the broader index was up by 1.9%.

Woolworths’ announcement adds to positive sentiment around South African retailers triggered last week by Mr Price and Foschini Group, whose shares soared after they reported healthier third quarter sales and profit numbers as retailers recover from coronavirus sales slump.

Retailers in Africa’s most industrialised country have been one of the hardest hit due to the pandemic. Retail sales in November, usually considered a peak sales month as customers spend heavily before the festive season, fell 4% year on year.

The crisis has forced retailers to move online, prompting tough competition as companies push for market share.

Woolworths, with a presence in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, expects group sales to rise 5.3% from the same period a year earlier.

Its online sales in South Africa in the food segment grew by almost 160% and contributes more than 2% to overall sales.

Online sales in fashion, beauty and home segments more than doubled, contributing 4% to overall sales of the segment.

It will release its results on Feb. 25.

($1 = 15.2312 rand)

Reporting by Promit Mukherjee; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Edmund Blair

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