BASF Defies Doomsters with Forecast for Growth

Germany's BASF, the world's largest chemical maker by sales, dismissed analyst forecasts its business would shrink this year, saying sales and earnings would rise, driven by an economic rebound in the second half led by emerging markets.

"We expect the global economy to pick up speed over the course of 2012 following a moderate start," chief executive Kurt Bock said on Friday, adding his 2012 targets were ambitious.

Uncertainties over government debt in Europe and the United States would pose a risk, while "positive impetus for the chemical industry will again mainly come from the emerging markets," he added.

Growth would largely be driven by higher chemical sales volumes and by the ramp-up of oil production in Libya, where BASF's Wintershall unit had been the second-largest foreign oil firm before the civil war.

The group also predicted growth next year and - in a sign of further optimism - said it would lift its annual dividend to €2.50 per share, up from €2.20 last year and more than the €2.39 expected by analysts.

Analysts had expected a decline in sales of almost 5% this year and operating earnings to drop 8%, based on 2011 figures of €73.5 billion and €8.4 billion, respectively.

"The positive outlook for the global economy and BASF is surprising," said DZ Bank analyst Peter Spengler.

Presenting full-year results for the first time after taking over in May, CEO Bock's remarks contrasted with his predecessor Juergen Hambrecht's notoriously conservative predictions.

StarMine data show that in all of the six quarters before Hambrecht stepped down, BASF beat consensus net profit forecasts.

Fourth quarter earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), adjusted for special items, fell 14% to 1.51 billion euros, matching the average analyst estimate in a Reuters poll.

Quarterly sales topped expectations.

BASF added its EBIT this year would exceed its cost of capital before interest and tax in 2012 by a good margin.

EBIT would be below last year's figures in the first half but would rise above the year-earlier comparison in the second half, it predicted.

BASF defines the cost of its capital as a combination of the interest it pays on debt and of what shareholders could reasonably expect in return on their equity capital.

Last year, the cost of capital was 11%, but the rate tends to swing between 9 and 13%.

BASF's main rivals, U.S. diversified chemicals maker Dow Chemical and DuPont struck a cautious tone about business prospects earlier this year.

Dow, the industry's No.1 in the United States, had described Europe, which is BASF's main market, as a "headwind for the whole year," while the U.S. was recovering.

More specialized smaller peers such as foam chemicals and pigments maker Huntsman, as well as rubber chemicals maker Lanxess, voiced confidence at the start of the year.



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