* H1 EBIT at 479.5 mln euros vs 549.4 mln euro forecast
* Full year EBIT seen just under 1 bln euros
* Texas plant out of operations after fire (Adds detail, background)
By Kirsti Knolle
VIENNA, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Austrian specialty steelmaker Voestalpine cut its full-year operating profit forecast on Wednesday, citing weaker demand from carmakers following profit warnings from some big names in the auto industry.
Shares in the group hit a two-year low following the statement, which said an unplanned plant shutdown in the U.S. had also hurt second-quarter earnings.
For the full year, the group said it now expects earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) of “just under 1 billion euros”. In August it had said that the EBIT would be roughly at the previous year’s level of 1.18 billion euros. Average analyst estimates are at 1.14 billion euros, Refinitiv Eikon data shows.
“There is not just one reason (for the profit warning) but several factors that added up,” a company spokesman said. “Above all of this, an economic downturn becomes noticeable.”
Voestalpine shares fell as much as 8.5 percent to 30.88 euros.
“The possible profit decline in automotive related products might more than be included in ... (its) share price decline,” Baader analyst Christian Obst said in a note to clients.
Voestalpine, which makes around one third of group sales from the auto industry, said the car market in Europe had been distorted by a new exhaust emission test procedure introduced on Sept. 1 and related uncertainties.
Chief Executive Wolfgang Eder warned last week, that after three boom years, the auto industry must adjust to the fact that demand will no longer grow quite as strongly.
German premium carmaker Daimler issued its second earnings warning since June last week, partly blaming new emissions standards. French tyre maker Michelin also cut its full year forecast, blaming weaker Chinese vehicle demand in addition to the new emissions rules.
Another reason for the Voestalpine profit warning was a fire at its Texas plant last week, the spokesman said, adding that the site will remain offline until Thursday or Friday. The costs resulting from the fire and the shutdown could not yet be estimated.
The plant, which opened two years ago, produces two million tonnes of premium hot briquetted iron, or sponge iron - a material used in steel production - annually and is Voestalpine’s biggest foreign investment so far.
Voestalpine, which transports much of the steel it produces in Austria via the Danube, said low water levels made freight transport difficult and also led to higher costs.
The Austrian group will give more details on Nov. 7 when it publishes its final half-year results.
The company said preliminary first-half EBIT totalled 479.5 million euros ($548 million). That was well below average analyst expectations of 549.4 million euros, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.
$1 = 0.8754 euros Reporting by Kirsti Knolle and Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich; Editing by Susan Fenton/Emelia Sithole-Matarise