* Q4 EBIT falls to $115 mln vs $118 mln forecast
* Div $0.25 per shr vs forecast $0.45
* Says investor focus has shifted to stronger balance sheets
OSLO, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Frontline (FRO.OL), the world’s biggest independent oil tanker shipping group, reported lower fourth-quarter profit, close to forecasts, due to weaker demand and said it expected results in the first quarter to be good.
Earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) at the Oslo-listed shipping group dropped to $115 million from $153 million a year earlier.
The result lagged an average forecast of a fall to $118 million in a Reuters poll of 11 analysts.
“Based on the trading results so far in the quarter, the board expects good results for the first quarter of 2009,” Bermuda-registered Frontline Ltd said.
Frontline, controlled by Norwegian shipping tycoon John Fredriksen, said it would pay a dividend of $0.25 per share for the quarter, lower than analysts’ average forecast of $0.45.
“The board of Frontline has...observed that the sentiment in the market has changed somewhat from full appreciation of dividend to more focus on strengthening companies’ balance sheets,” it said.
Frontline shares closed up 2.9 percent at 158 crowns on Wednesday. Trade resumes at the Oslo bourse at 0800 GMT.
“Going forward the tanker industry is exposed to a decrease in projected oil consumption by 1.1 percent in 2009 according to (the International Energy Agency), further cuts in OPEC production, U.S. crude inventories at seasonal highs and a record amount of expected tanker deliveries in the next 12 months,” Frontline said. (Reporting by Aasa Christine Stoltz and John Acher; Editing by Erica Billingham)