* Chairman hopes EU authorities will take action
* Q1 comparable EBITDA below consensus
* 2014 outlook remains difficult (Recasts lead, adds detail, comment, shares)
By Stephen Jewkes
MILAN, May 14 (Reuters) - Italy’s Saras urged Europe to take steps to restore the competitiveness of the region’s refining sector after it posted an 85 percent slump in its core earnings in the first three months due to weak refining margins.
Europe’s refining sector is facing growing pressure from increasing international competition, excess production capacity and weak domestic consumption.
“We hope that the European Authorities will finally become fully aware that the competitiveness of this absolutely strategic sector is progressively being eroded, and will take action to rebalance this abnormal situation,” Chairman Gian Marco Moratti said in a statement.
Europe’s refiners have long complained about unfair competition from peers in the Middle and Far East and have called on EU authorities to help them in restructuring.
Saras, controlled by the Italian Moratti family, said in a statement its comparable earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) in the period was 7.3 million euros ($10 million).
That was below an analyst consensus provided by the company of 13 million euros.
The company, part owned by Russia’s Rosneft, said the outlook for the European refining industry in 2014 remained difficult.
“However, there are some positive developments in Libya, where eastern ports have resumed operations, and the Saras Group has been among the first lifters of crude oil cargoes from the Zueitina oil terminal,” it said in a slide.
The Italian refiner was a big buyer of Libyan crude before conflict interrupted supplies in the North African country, forcing it to find other grades of crude which are not as profitable.
Saras, whose main Sarroch refinery in Sardinia has a capacity of 300,000 barrels-per-day, also used to import sweet Iranian crude before the U.S-led embargo was imposed.
In the first quarter Saras posted an adjusted net loss of 32.4 million euros from a loss of 49.5 million euros a year ago.
At 1228 GMT Saras shares were down 3.3 percent while the European oil and gas sector was down 0.45 percent. ($1 = 0.7296 Euros) (Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)