230909 Woolworths in woodmead.photo by Simphiwe Mbokazi

Johannesburg - South African retailer Woolworths reported a 17-percent rise in first-half profit on Thursday as its well-heeled customers splashed out on luxury goods even as the rest of the consumer market grapples with high personal debt.

Woolworths, which sells upscale food products and clothing, said headline earnings per share totalled 192.4 South African cents in the six months to end-December compared with 164.2 cents a year earlier.

Headline earnings are the main profit gauge in South Africa and exclude certain one-off items.

Retailers in Africa's biggest economy are struggling to grow sales at a faster pace as consumers rein in spending due to high personal debt, unemployment and rising fuel and transport prices.

But Woolworths, similar in style and products to Britain's Marks & Spencer, is faring better as most of its customers are from the high-income category.

Sales rose 16.2 percent to 19.382 billion rand ($1.76 billion) compared with the same period the previous year. Woolworths said it expects second-half sales growth to be broadly in line with the first half.

The company declared an interim dividend of 101 cents per share. - Reuters