LUDWIGSHAFEN, Germany (Reuters) - Germany's BASF (BASFn.DE), the world's largest chemicals group by sales, forecast a rebound in earnings this year after higher petrochemical prices boosted profits in the final three months of 2016.
The company, whose products include catalytic converters for car engine exhausts, insulation foams, vitamins and plastics, said it was targeting a gain in operating profit before one-offs of up to 10 percent in 2017 after a 6 percent decline last year.
Higher crude prices are expected to bolster its oil and gas division and its large petrochemical complexes, which have benefited from above-average investments over previous years, will have better utilisation rates, BASF said.
But investors had hoped for an increase in operating profit of more than 12 percent in 2017 and BASF's share price was down 2.5 percent at 87.69 euros by 1006 GMT, giving up the gains made over the last two weeks.
"The market was too bullish on BASF's earnings perspective and consequently too much hope is already in the share price," said Baader Bank analyst Markus Mayer.
BASF's fourth-quarter operating profit (EBIT) adjusted for one-off items rose a better than expected 15 percent to 1.18 billion euros (£1 billion).
That was slightly above the 1.12 billion euros expected by analysts polled by Reuters.
Strong demand for basic precursor chemicals that go into more advanced products such as engineering foams enabled the company to increase prices.
"Particularly in Asia, we continually increased our sales volumes in the chemicals business," Chief Executive Kurt Bock said in a statement, adding that investments made on plants, equipment and product development in the region were paying off.
The earnings gain, however, was tempered by money set aside for remuneration to senior managers, who are in for a higher bonus after BASF's shares rallied about 14 percent in the fourth quarter.
Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Harro ten Wolde, Greg Mahlich