UPDATE 2-Schneider sees slight return to growth in 2013

Thu Feb 21, 2013 8:11am EST

Related Topics

* 2012 adjusted EBITA up 10 pct to 3.51 bln eur

* Sees low single-digit organic sales growth in 2013

* Expects flat to slightly up adjusted EBITA margin in 2013

* China rebound seen in H2 2013

* 2011 net profit restated due to accounting fraud (Adds fraud details, analyst comments, share price)

By Elena Berton and Gilles Guillaume

PARIS, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Schneider Electric forecast 2013 organic sales would resume growth and margins would be at least stable as cost cuts and price hikes helped underlying profit rise 10 percent, despite a weaker China and tough Europe.

Schneider, whose products help utilities distribute electricity and which makes automation systems for the car and water treatment industries, said markets would remain mixed in 2013 and revealed it had to revise down its 2011 profit because of an accounting fraud.

Schneider, like other engineering and infrastructure companies, has been hit by stalling growth in some regions as well as a deep recession in Europe, where austerity-minded companies and governments have slashed capital spending.

It expects a slow recovery in North America, challenging conditions in Europe and a second-half recovery in China.

"For 2013, in an economic environment that remains mixed, we target low single-digit organic growth in sales and a stable to slightly up adjusted EBITA margin," Chief Executive Jean-Pascal Tricoire said in a statement.

Societe Generale analysts wrote in a note that Schneider's guidance for 2013 was encouraging, noting that current analysts' consensus for sales growth this year was pegged at 2 percent.

Finance chief Emmanuel Babeau told Reuters China demand began stabilising at the end of 2012 after growth stalled earlier in the year: "There won't be a sudden recovery in the first quarter, we rather expect an acceleration during 2013."

Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts said Schneider's guidance for 2013 was in line with consensus forecasts.

"The results are likely to lead to modest upgrades to consensus, but valuation looks reasonably full," they wrote.

Schneider's shares, which have gained around 15 percent in the last year, were the top performers on Paris' benchmark CAC 40 index at 1107 GMT, up 3.3 percent at 57.22 euros.

ACCOUNTING FRAUD

Schneider had to revise its 2011 net profit to include a 27 million euro hit resulting from an internal accounting fraud, according to a document published on the company's website.

"We discovered an accounting problem at the end of 2011 due to a fraud in France, where an employee had been manipulating documents, creating fake documents," Babeau said during a presentation to analysts.

The former employee presented overestimated revenues for a business unit by delaying accounting for rebates Schneider gives to its customers. As a result, accounts underestimated the level of provisions for these rebates, the document said.

Net profit for 2011 has been revised to 1.793 billion, compared with the 1.82 billion figure reported last year.

"It's been a wake-up call and we have put in place a series of measures to prevent it from repeating again," Tricoire said.

A Schneider spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the company planned to take legal action against its former employee, but said authorities had been informed, as required in fraud cases.

HIGHER PRICES

Despite the slowdown in China and dire conditions in southern Europe, Schneider was able to increase profit by raising prices and shrinking costs.

Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes and amortisation rose 10 percent to 3.51 billion euros ($4.69 billion), while net income reached 1.84 billion, up 3 percent.

The depreciation of the euro against most major currencies added 171 million euros to profit, the company said.

The margin was 14.7 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2011.

Sales increased 7 percent to 23.95 billion, in line with a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S average forecast of 23.92 billion, but declined 0.7 percent on a comparable basis.

Schneider is several months into a three-year strategic plan to drive growth from its service business - which provides infrastructure and IT support and accounts for more than a third of the total business. The plan also targets emerging markets, where it makes around two-fifths of sales. ($1 = 0.7479 euros) (Editing by Christian Plumb and Helen Massy-Beresford)

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