November 8, 2018 / 7:24 AM / 6 days ago

Germany's Siemens, bucking trend, sees moderate growth next year

MUNICH (Reuters) - Siemens (SIEGn.DE) bucked the trend of boardroom caution when it said on Thursday it expects to shrug off global geopolitical tensions and notch up “moderate” sales growth next year.

FILE PHOTO: The Siemens logo is seen on a building in Siemensstadt in Berlin, Germany, October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Chief Executive Joe Kaeser described the German engineering company’s guidance as “courageous”, saying it saw only limited risks and expected to increased sales in the 3 to 5 percent range during its 2019 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1.

The outlook was for “moderate growth”, he told Reuters TV after the company reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings.

“The capital markets would likely interpret that as growth of between 3 and 5 percent,” he said.

The train-to-turbine maker’s shares rose 1.1 percent in early trading, bolstered by a new 3 billion euro ($3.43 billion) share buyback.

“If everybody is concerned, there has to be somebody who brings hope and shows people the way. This is not arrogant ... Our customers like what we do,” Kaeser said.

Many companies have voiced worries about slowing growth as trade tension between the United States and China mounts and economies in many countries ebb.

Chief Financial Officer Ralf Thomas told an analysts’ call however that Siemens had good visibility for the first six months of its business year, and had not seen any negative indicators stemming from geopolitical tensions hitting its smaller and shorter-term projects.

Despite the upbeat comments, investment research firm CFRA cut its rating on the shares to ‘hold’ from ‘strong buy’.

“We think its outlook statement points to a tougher operating environment in FY19, on the back of rising macroeconomic uncertainties and geopolitical tension,” CFRA equity analyst Firdaus Ibrahim said in a note.

Siemens’ confidence contrasts with the troubles at its U.S. rival General Electric (GE.N) which last month slashed its dividend, said it faces a deepening federal accounting probe and vowed to restructure its power unit.

RIVALS’ WOES

Shares in Siemens’ Swiss rival ABB (ABBN.S) hit a nearly two-year low last month after the group reported third-quarter results. ABB turned more cautious on its European outlook, citing concerns about Italy and Britain.

Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N) tried to ease mounting concerns about China and global demand last month after it affirmed its 2018 profit estimate, a move that investors feared signaled a cap in earnings growth and sparked a sell-off in its shares.

Kaeser, who is reorganizing Siemens to simplify its structure and speed up growth, was particularly buoyed by the strength in Siemens’ short-cycle businesses like its Digital Factory automation unit, the jewel in its crown.

During the three months ended Sept. 30, the division raised revenue by 10 percent and profit by 28 percent, helped by sales of its software business which controls industrial processes in factories.

Kaeser said he thought the business could continue to grow even in uncertain times and take market share.

But the Power and Gas business remained a sore spot, swinging to a loss of 139 million euros during the quarter as the collapse in demand for large gas-powered turbines persisted and it was hit by charges from cutting jobs.

The business, which competes with General Electric and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (7011.T), has also seen falling prices due to over-capacity in the sector.

In September, Siemens said it would cut around 2,900 jobs in Germany to achieve 500 million euros in cost savings to improve the competitiveness of its Power and Gas division and the Process Industries and Drives division.

The overhaul triggered 301 million euros in restructuring charges which weighed on the Siemens’s industrial profit, which remained flat at 2.145 billion euros.

Siemens’ results were also hit by a one-off tax charge related to the separation of its mobility unit. Siemens is seeking approvals from competition authorities to combine the train business with France’s Alstom (ALSO.PA).

As a result, net profit fell 46 percent to 681 million euros, better than the 595 million euros expected in a Reuters poll.

Siemens proposed raising its dividend. Kaeser said its new share buyback would not prevent future acquisitions.

($1 = 0.8758 euros)

Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Adrian Croft

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