FRANKFURT, March 20 (Reuters) - Indebted German auto parts supplier Schaeffler AG forecast a slight decline in profitability and pledged only to deliver a positive free cash flow this year as the company struggles to generate enough cash to make a dent in its growing debt pile.
Net debt surged to 7.09 billion euros ($9.39 billion) at the end of December versus 5.74 billion as free cash flow nearly halved to 319 million euros. Its operating margin stood at 15.8 percent.
"We are anticipating particularly North America, but also China, India, and Russia providing impetus for growth. Based on these forecasts, we are currently aiming for sales growth of more than 5 percent and an EBIT margin of more than 13 percent in 2012," Chief Executive Juergen Geissinger said in a statement on Tuesday. ($1 = 0.7552 euros) (Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner)