* Clariant swings to profit in Q1, but misses expectations
* Sees EBIT margin pre-exceptionals of above 6.6 pct
* Sees operating performance weakening in H2
(Adds details, background)
ZURICH, April 29 (Reuters) - Swiss chemicals maker Clariant (CLN.VX) hit a cautious tone for the rest of the year despite swinging to a profit in the first quarter on the back of higher demand for its products.
The group posted a first-quarter net profit of 10 million Swiss francs ($9.22 million), but this fell short of the average estimate of 22 million Swiss francs in a Reuters poll.[ID:nLDE63M1SF]
"We expect the economic recovery to remain fragile and raw material costs to further rise heading into the seasonally weaker second half of the year," the group said on Thursday.
"Consequently, we do not anticipate an operating performance at the same strong level of the first quarter," Clariant said.
But surprisingly upbeat demand in the first quarter prompted the group to last week raise its full-year sales growth target to between 4 and 6 percent, the group's head told Reuters in an interview. [ID:nLDE63K19R]
The group now also expects its operating margin before exceptional items to be above 2008's level of 6.6 percent.
Specialty chemical companies, which make ingredients that go into products ranging from skin creams and shampoos to tyres and flat screens, were hit hard by the downturn, but recent comments from industry players have suggested prospects are brightening.
Dutch group DSM (DSMLX.O) and France's Rhodia RHA.PA both posted strong quarterly figures on Wednesday thanks to their exposure to fast-growing emerging markets. [ID:nLDE63R0N9]
Clariant trades at around 10 times forecast 2011 earnings, a discount to competitors like BASF BASF.DE Bayer (BAYGn.DE) and Akzo Nobel (AKZO.AS). (Reporting by Katie Reid; editing by Karen Foster)