UPDATE 1-Northrop Grumman sales, earnings beat forecasts

Wed Apr 24, 2013 3:07pm EDT

* Profit $2.03/share vs Wall St forecast $1.74

* Sales $6.1 billion vs year-earlier $6.2 billion

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON, April 24 (Reuters) - Northrop Grumman Corp reported higher-than-expected first-quarter earnings and sales on Wednesday and stood by its previous forecast for the full year despite what it called "an uncertain and constrained budget environment."

Northrop, one of the largest U.S. weapons makers, reported net earnings of $489 million, or $2.03 per share, compared with $506 million, or $1.96 per share, a year earlier.

Revenue dipped to $6.1 billion from $6.2 billion.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S had forecast earnings of $425 million, or $1.74 a share, on sales of $5.96 billion.

Chief Executive Wes Bush said operating performance was strong across the board in the quarter, but he warned that across-the-board defense budget cuts known as sequestration would have a negative impact on revenues in 2014.

"Looking ahead, we recognize that we are operating in an uncertain and constrained budget environment," he said in a statement, underscoring Northrop's focus on executing contracts, deploying cash effectively and aligning its portfolio.

He told analysts the company had already consolidated facilities, cut staffing and reduced overhead costs wherever possible. Now it was aggressively tackling cost at a more detailed level by looking closely at new and existing contracts.

Bush told analysts the company during an earnings call that he did not expect cancellation of any significant Northrop programs in fiscal 2013, but continuing uncertainty about future budget cuts could weigh on bookings this year.

Sales and bookings in the third and fourth quarters would help clarify the outlook for 2014, Bush said. "It is very likely this is going to negatively impact sales in 2014," he said. "To think that the sequester somehow dissipates and goes away and doesn't impact the future is putting your head in the sand."

Bush said a broader strategic review initiated by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would also help inform future budgets.

The company repurchased 6.5 million shares during the quarter, reducing its outstanding shares by 7 percent. It has $1 billion left on its current repurchase authorization.

Backlog at the end of the quarter was $39.4 billion, compared with $40.8 billion as of Dec. 31, 2012.

Asked about Northrop's interest in adjacent markets, Bush said it was important to look at ways of creating value, but signaled his reluctance to get too far afield from core areas.

"The experience of our industry suggests that the longer you have to stretch out your tape measure to measure how adjacent it is, the less likely it is you're going to really create value," Bush told analysts. "We look at it but it's not the primary motivator of our strategy obviously. We're a global security company and we keep that in mind.

Bush said cyber was one growing rapidly as a business area and generating double-digit growth, although he said it was still difficult to define exactly what that term meant.

He welcomed the Obama administration's proposal to spend a total of $13 billion on cyber programs in fiscal 2014. The field included many aspects of electronic warfare but continued to evolve, which tentacles "increasingly intertwined in just about every other component of the defense architecture."

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