* Fourth-quarter EBITDA $525 mln vs forecast $479 mln
* Industrials IPO to be decided by mid-year
* Shares rise as much as 6% to four-month high (Adds CEO quote, outlook)
By Terje Solsvik
OSLO, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Norwegian fertiliser company Yara expects to decide whether to spin of its industrial nitrogens business by the middle of 2020, it said on Friday after reporting strong results that helped send its shares to a four-month high.
Yara’s fourth-quarter profit before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) rose 24% to $525 million before non-recurring items, beating analyst forecasts of $479 million, and the company more than doubled its dividend.
“The results mainly reflect improved commercial margins and lower gas costs,” Chief Executive Svein Tore Holsether said. “We continue to view our prospects as attractive.”
The price of natural gas, a key component in the production of nitrogen fertilisers, is expected to be lower in the first half of 2020 than a year earlier while tighter grain markets could boost demand for fertilisers, Yara said.
Yara shares jumped as much as 6% in early trade to their highest since Oct. 18 and were up 4% at 1030 GMT.
The company announced plans in June to spin off its non-fertiliser business, which generates 10%-15% of annual profits, in a bid to reduce the sprawl in its product range and boost growth prospects.
However, the division’s designated chief executive abruptly resigned last month and a final decision on an initial public offering is now scheduled for the middle of 2020, rather than the early part of the year.
The company raised its dividend to 15 Norwegian crowns ($1.63) per share for 2019 from 6.50 crowns in 2018, beating a forecast of 11 crowns in a Refinitiv poll of analysts.
The company also plans to buy back 0.5% of its shares by the end of the first quarter - in addition to purchasing a 0.3% stake from the government and will propose a new buyback programme for the coming year. ($1 = 9.2299 Norwegian crowns) (Additional reporting by Victoria Klesty; Editing by Gwladys Fouche and David Clarke)