UPDATE 4-EU renewable firms offer hope amid grim outlook

Fri Nov 11, 2011 10:58am EST

* SMA Solar/Acciona results beat views, Gamesa ups forecast

* SMA Q3 EBIT 74.7 mln euros vs 66.9 mln forecast

* Acciona 9-mth EBITDA 934 mln eur vs 927 mln forecast

* Gamesa says to sell up to 3.5 GW of turbines in 2012

* SMA shares up nearly 9 pct, Gamesa up 6 pct, Acciona gains nearly 3 pct (Updates with Gamesa earnings, forecasts, quotes, links)

By Christoph Steitz and Jose Elías Rodríguez

FRANKFURT/MADRID, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Three European renewable energy groups gave a ray of hope amid a dark outlook for green energy in 2012 with upbeat guidance or forecast-beating third-quarter results boosted by international expansion and power prices.

SMA Solar, Germany's No.1 solar group by sales, posted higher-than-expected quarterly results, benefiting from strong business in the United States, Belgium and Italy as well as increasing demand for its maintenance services.

Spanish wind turbine maker Gamesa forecast an uptick in 2012 sales thanks to its expansion into new markets and stuck to its 2013 objectives just two days after larger peer Vestas scrapped its long-term goals.

One of the world's largest wind power generators, Spain's Acciona, posted nine-months results above estimates, boosted by higher power prices for its renewable energy..

"There just a little ray of sunlight shining through for the sector, parts of which are in trouble otherwise. For the solar sector there are some clouds on the horizon," a Luxembourg-based senior trader said.

Solar and wind power are facing possible subsidy cuts as many of their mature markets are weighed down by ballooning public deficits and sluggish economic growth.

Wind turbine makers are also fighting tough competition from a raft of new market players who are saturating the global market, as well as cheap unconventional gas and regulatory uncertainty in the United States, a major market for wind.

At 1500 GMT, shares in SMA, the world's largest maker of electric current inverters, a key component of solar power generation systems, were 8.92 percent higher, outperforming a 1.55 percent gain in the OekoDAX index of Germany's biggest renewable stocks.

Gamesa shares were up 6.46 percent, while Acciona gained 3.78 percent, both outperforming a 2.9 percent gain on the IBEX leading Spanish share index.

SMA said it made a third-quarter profit before interest and tax of 74.7 million euros ($102 million), down 62 percent on a year ago but higher than the average forecast of 66.9 million euros given by analysts in a Reuters poll.

Acciona, which has cut guidance for new wind farms at previous quarterly results presentations, relieved investors by sticking to forecasts for an average of 500 MW of farms in 2011 and 2012, and even said it may pick up unfinished wind farms from cash-strapped promoters and finish them.

"While before it was all in-house projects, the new market (for wind farms) comes from developers or local investors in foreign markets who are not able to complete their projects," Acciona's chairman Jose Manuel Entrecanales said at a conference call after results.

SMA reaffirmed its forecast for 2011 sales of 1.5-1.7 billion euros ($2.0-2.3 billion) and earnings before interest and tax of 220-300 million, while Gamesa reiterated its 2011 target for sales of 2.8-3.1 gigawatts of turbines and said it will sell 3.0-3.5 GW in 2012.

Germany's SMA also benefited from slashed analyst estimates, that were lowered by about a fifth on average since September, when it rocked the sector by issuing a profit and sales warning after lower government support in the world's two largest markets Germany and Italy had curbed demand.

The renewable industry still needs so-called feed-in tariffs -- costs paid by utilities to generators of renewable energy -- to stay competitive vis-a-vis fossil-fuel based energy as it is not yet competitive in terms of production costs. .

Gamesa and Acciona are focusing on growth outside their traditional market of Spain, where looming elections and imbalances in the power tariff system have delayed legislation on feed-in tariffs for new wind power from 2013 onwards.

Late last month, SMA's main rival Power-One posted a drop in quarterly profits and forecast weak fourth-quarter revenue, citing uncertain global macroeconomic conditions.

This partly chimed with SMA Solar which said it was unable to give a reliable outlook for next year, citing ongoing turmoil in the euro zone and the solar industry that led most sector players to cut their forecasts in recent weeks.

"As long as the dust hasn't settled yet, we won't give a forecast for 2012, there is simply too much uncertainty," Chief Executive Pierre-Pascal Urbon said during a conference call.

Monday will see another batch of results from renewable companies, including wind turbine maker Nordex, SolarWorld and Q-Cells, which are expected to report losses or falling profits. ($1=0.736 euros) (Additional reporting and writing by Jonathan Gleave; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)