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UPDATE 3-ABB cautious on outlook after strong dollar hits results
February 5, 2015 / 7:39 AM / in 3 years

UPDATE 3-ABB cautious on outlook after strong dollar hits results

* Q4 net profit $680 mln vs poll avg $720 mln

* Sliding oil prices curb customer spending

* CEO says outlook still marked by rising uncertainty (Recasts, adds CEO and analyst comments, share price)

By Maria Sheahan

ZURICH, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Swiss engineering group ABB took a cautious stance on earnings for the coming months after a strong U.S. dollar, sluggish global economy and a slide in oil prices caused it to miss expectations in the fourth quarter.

Like rivals Siemens and Schneider Electric , ABB has been grappling with delayed capital spending by customers that include utility companies and oil, gas and mining businesses.

The U.S. dollar has also taken its toll. The currency, in which the Zurich-based company reports financial results, has gained more than 10 percent against the euro and the Swiss franc over the past year and shaved 6 percent off ABB’s revenues for the fourth quarter.

The group, which makes products such as industrial robots and power grid transformers, said it expects the negative currency effect to persist for the coming quarters, along with increased economic uncertainty, but it declined to provide a forecast for 2015 sales and earnings.

“The outlook that we gave in the third quarter, saying there is rising uncertainty, is still valid. But we also see a downside risk in that context,” Chief Executive Ulrich Spiesshofer said.

POSITIVE ASPECTS

Analysts said there were some positive aspects to ABB’s results, such as a 1 percent rise in orders after currency effects and portfolio changes are excluded and an operating margin increase to 13.3 percent from 12.5 percent.

Yet scepticism remains over the company’s short-term prospects.

“The operating performance is not convincing. Slowly, the lower orders on hand (order backlog) appear to have an effect on sales growth,” Zuercher Kantonalbank analyst Richard Frei said.

Frei is among a majority of analysts with a neutral rating on ABB, according to Reuters data.

Shares in ABB dipped 0.9 percent to 18.33 Swiss francs by 1213 GMT, broadly in line with SMI blue-chip index.

ABB said it would continue working towards the medium-term sales and profit goals that it cut last year. It had said it saw sales rising by between 4 percent and 7 percent to 2020, with core profit margins of 11 percent to 16 percent.

However, analysts at Goldman Sachs said in a note last week that they expect those targets to be cut again as sliding oil prices curb spending by customers in the oil and gas sector, estimated to account for 10 percent of group sales.

Fourth-quarter revenue dropped 9 percent to $10.35 billion, missing the $10.8 billion average of analyst estimates in a Reuters poll. Net profit rose 30 percent to $680 million, helped by gains from the sale of businesses, falling short of a consensus forecast of $720 million.

ABB said it would raise its 2014 dividend to 0.72 Swiss francs per share from 0.70 francs a year earlier. (Editing by David Holmes and David Goodman)

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