UPDATE 2-Saipem sees no more surprises after profit warning

Thu Feb 7, 2013 4:08pm EST

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By Stephen Jewkes

MILAN, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Italian oil service group Saipem does not expect any more nasty surprises to undermine its profitability as it seeks to draw a line under a shock profit warning last week that wiped billions off its value and left investors incensed.

"We are very confident we don't have any surprises that can hit us," Chief Executive Umberto Vergine told analysts on a conference call on Thursday.

Europe's biggest oil service company, 43 percent owned by oil major Eni, called its second conference call in less than 10 days to clear the air after pressure from investors and market watchdog Consob.

The group's new management team, led by Vergine, first spoke to analysts on Jan. 29, the day it took the market by surprise by slashing 2012 guidance and giving a profit target for 2013 almost 60 percent below the average market forecast.

That announcement, following close after news in December of a corruption probe into Saipem's business in Algeria, has left some investors cautious about the group's prospects.

In December investment fund Capital Research and Management cut its stake to 1.3 percent from nearly 5 percent while earlier this week Consob said Fidelity had cut its stake after the profit warning.

Sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Thursday some Saipem fund shareholders were seeking a meeting with independent board members later in the day to discuss matters relating to the profit warning.

One bone of contention, the sources said, were orders to the tune of 3.2 billion euros that Saipem announced on Thursday but which the funds said could have been disclosed at the first conference call.

The company was not immediately available for a comment.

"They could have told us about these new contracts in last week's call. And anyway, I'm presuming these new orders are the ones Vergine said have lower margins," a Milan analyst said.

Saipem, which expects a significant rebound in its business in 2014, has put the fall in profitability this year down to lower margins on new contracts and fewer high-margin existing contracts.

PROBING ALGERIA

In Thursday's conference call Vergine also said he did not expect to make any provisions in regard to the probe by Milan prosecutors into the Algeria corruption allegations.

"We have no evidence we may need provisions," he told analysts.

Vergine, a former manager at Eni, took over at Saipem after the Algerian probe prompted the resignation of former long-standing CEO Pietro Franco Tali.

The probe also cost the job of Eni Chief Financial Officer Alessandro Bernini, seen by many analysts as the right hand man of the oil major's CEO Paolo Scaroni.

On Thursday Eni, Italy's biggest listed company, said Milan prosecutors had put Scaroni under investigation as part of the probe, sending Eni shares sharply lower.

"Eni and its CEO declare themselves totally unrelated to the object of investigation," the company said.

Saipen shares ended the day up 5.26 percent at 21.8 euros, still below the 30.5 euros they traded at before the profit warning. Eni shares were down 4.6 percent.

(Reporting by Stephen Jewkes and Jennifer Clark; Editing by Erica Billingham and Andrew Hay)

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