ASCIANO chairman Malcolm Broomhead has tapped the successful automation of the company’s Port Botany container terminal and further expansion as key goals before he retires at the end of the year.

Mr Broomhead, who has chaired Asciano since October 2009, said he hoped to oversee a smooth transition to automation at Patrick’s container terminal in Sydney as well as increased group revenues before he steps down at Asciano’s annual general meeting.

“The successful transformation of Botany would be a really important goal,” Mr Broomhead said. “And continuing to look for opportunities to grow the company, to grow the top line.”

Sondal Bensan, an investment analyst at Asciano shareholder BT Investment Management, said Mr Broomhead had done a good job of creating “a culture of capital discipline and a focus on return on capital” during his tenure as chairman.

Mr Broomhead, who expects to be replaced by an existing director on Asciano’s eight-member board, plans to look for other board roles when he leaves the company.

Asciano chief executive John Mullen has cautioned talks over a potential sale of a stake in Patrick’s to international partners, which could include Chinese conglomerate China Merchants, were proceeding slowly, emphasising the company did not have “deal fever” after it reported flat first half net profits of $190.2 million.

“This is not something we have to do, we don’t have money burning a hole in our pocket,” Mr Mullen said.

But Mr Mullen said Asciano was keen to expand its Australian footprint overseas and would consider acquisitions and partnerships, particularly in its ports business, that did not hurt its free cash flow generation or dividend payments. “Ports are easier because it’s a bigger global business with lots of different parts, whereas there aren’t many rail businesses in Australia,” Mr Mullen said. “Overseas there isn’t the obvious synergy that you would get with a ports business.”

Asciano plans to close its terminal at Port Botany for a week next month and sub-contract containers to other stevedores as it finishes installing automated equipment. The automated terminal, which Mr Mullen claims will be among the most “technologically advanced” in the world, will open at the end of March.

Asciano has lost some share of the container ports market during the transition to automation, dropping 47.4 per cent of the market, but said it had not lost any shipping contracts. Rival DP World Australia controls nearly half the market while Hong Kong’s Hutchison Port Holdings controls 3 per cent.

Asciano confirmed its outlook for stronger underlying growth in earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT) in fiscal 2015 compared to fiscal 2014’s growth of 5 per cent after reporting a 4.7 per cent increase in first half underlying EBIT to $391.1 million. Underlying EBIT in Asciano’s Pacific National rail haulage business rose 18.8 per cent to $291.1 million in the first half, while Asciano’s terminals and logistics business delivered underlying earnings growth of 3.3 per cent to $86.7 million.

But earnings fell 55.3 per cent in the group’s bulk and automotive port services division to $29.1 million due to weaker haulage volumes of agricultural products and machinery used in the resources industry.

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