FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German engineering firm Bilfinger (GBFG.DE) said it would pay a bigger dividend than expected and sell its struggling offshore wind turbine division after a 2014 marked by a 35 percent slide in operating profit and a string of profit warnings.
Bilfinger's shares leapt 10 percent to a five-month high on Thursday as investors hoped the company had put the crisis behind it and would soon announce a new chief executive after months of searching.
The firm's move towards more profitable services from lower-margin construction and engineering coincided with painful adjustments that key customers such as utilities RWE (RWEG.DE) and E.ON (EONGn.DE) were making in response to Germany's switch to renewable energy.
As those customers slashed spending, Bilfinger issued four profit warnings in quick succession, prompting its two top executives to quit and activist investor Cevian to boost its stake to 26 percent.
Interim chief executive Herbert Bodner told journalists on a conference call he was confident his eventual successor would find no more skeletons in the cupboard.
"The goal was to clean house and to put the company in a clear position for the future," he said. "It does not look as though we will rise from the ashes like a phoenix in 2015 but I am confident that Bilfinger has a good future."
The firm's adjusted earnings before interest, tax and amortisation (EBITA) for 2014 came in at 270 million euros (199 million pounds), in line with analyst forecasts and meeting its own target. Its 2014 net loss of 71 million euros was also in line with expectations.
It announced a 2-euro dividend - well above the 1.65 euros predicted in a Reuters poll of analysts.
Bilfinger said it was putting its offshore wind turbine and marine divisions up for sale. It took a 30 million-euro hit on its offshore wind business in the third quarter as projects were delayed.
It added it was in contact with interested parties about the rest of its construction business, in Poland, after selling most of the business to Swiss builder Implenia (IMPN.S) in its ongoing quest to focus just on engineering services.
"We believe a turnaround might be on the cards for this year once the new management is in place," Bankhaus Lampe analyst Marc Gabriel wrote. "The dividend of 2 euros (3.95 percent yield) looks attractive and has been surprisingly strong."
Bilfinger, which named a new finance chief on Tuesday, forecast a drop in output to 7.5 billion euros from 7.69 billion in 2015 and a "slight" improvement in adjusted EBITA.
"Because a considerable share of sales is currently generated in difficult industries such as energy as well as oil and gas, Bilfinger generally anticipates a reserved development of its business," it said.
Editing by David Clarke and Pravin Char