L&T Q1 orders fall 22 pct, sees pick up in H2

MUMBAI Thu Jul 16, 2009 3:31pm IST

Labourers work inside a steel factory on the outskirts of Agartala, Tripura in this April 9, 2009 file photo.  REUTERS/Jayanta Dey/Files

Labourers work inside a steel factory on the outskirts of Agartala, Tripura in this April 9, 2009 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Jayanta Dey/Files

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MUMBAI (Reuters) - Larsen & Toubro said on Thursday new orders in the three months to June fell more than a fifth and demand was likely to remain slow for at least another quarter, even as quarterly profit tripled on a one-off gain.

Shares in the country's largest engineering and construction company, which the market values at $16.5 billion, fell as much as 4.2 percent in a choppy Mumbai market after the result.

L&T rode a construction boom in the past few years as India revamps its airports, roads and adds industrial capacity. It is betting the government's focus on infrastructure investment will boost order flow in the second half of the financial year.

"We don't see any concerns in demand, but the key is the timing," Executive Vice President R. Shankar Raman told reporters. "We are waiting for project momentum to pick up, and expect this to be stepped up in the third and fourth quarters."

The conglomerate said it had an order backlog of 716.5 billion rupees ($14.7 billion) at the end of June, which should help the company meet targeted revenue growth of 15-20 percent for the full year ending in March.

While the global financial crisis slowed the economy and pressured firms to scale back expansion plans, the government's recent focus on boosting rural infrastructure and speeding up road construction has raised revival prospects for the sector.

"This year, we expect the government to take the lead. Private sector investments will take a little while because they are still worrying about capacity utilisation," Shankar Raman said.

L&T said net profit rose to 15.98 billion rupees ($328 million) in the fiscal first quarter ended June from 5.02 billion a year ago. Net sales rose to 73.6 billion rupees from 69 billion.

The profit included a gain of 10.2 billion rupees from sale of its stake in UltraTech Cement.

A Reuters poll of 11 brokerages had forecast net profit of 5.48 billion rupees, excluding one-off gains, on net sales of 81.1 billion.

Shankar Raman said the proceeds from the UltraTech sale would be used to partly fund L&T's capital expenditure of 15 billion rupees in this year.

Margins in its engineering and construction division, which contributes 80 percent of revenues, rose to 11.9 percent from 10.5 percent a year ago, helped by faster execution of projects.

The company expects order flow to pick up after the June-September monsoon from the infrastructure, power and hydrocarbon segments and sees its strong balance sheet helping to grab contracts.

L&T, whose diverse activities include shipbuilding and software, currently holds cash reserves of $1 billion on its books, Shankar Raman said.

India aims to invest $20 billion a year to build roads, Transport Minister Kamal Nath said last week.

L&T shares, which had more than doubled in the June quarter beating the benchmark BSE stock index that rose 49 percent, were trading down 3.2 percent at 1,384 rupees by 0950 GMT.

(Additional reporting by Janaki Krishnan)

(For more news on Reuters Money click in.reuters.com/money)

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