FRANKFURT/BERLIN Germany's Continental AG (CONG.DE) expects sales to keep growing this year as auto demand recovers, predicting its group 2014 margin to stay well above 10 percent.
Sales at the car parts and tire maker may rise by more than 5 percent this year to about 35 billion euros ($47.85 billion), after climbing almost 2 percent to 33.3 billion euros in 2013, Continental said in an unexpected release of key earnings data on Monday.
The group aims for its adjusted operating margin to stay "comfortably" above 10 percent, after 11.2 percent last year, which beat the 10.5 percent margin Continental had guided for in November.
"We expect global car production to increase from around 83 million units in 2013 to more than 85 million units," Chief Executive Elmar Degenhart said in a statement.
Auto demand in Europe, which accounts for over half of Continental's sales, should continue to stabilize in 2014 while China is poised for further growth, finance chief Wolfgang Schaefer said in an interview in November.
Continental's shares were up 1.1 percent by 0820 GMT, trading at 159.90 euros.
"With regard to the good positioning of Continental and the improved financial situation, we still rate the company as one of our top picks" among auto suppliers, Frankfurt-based DZ Bank analyst Michael Punzet said in a note published on Monday.
Continental is due to post full 2013 results on March 6.
($1 = 0.7314 euros)
(Reporting by Maria Sheahan and Andreas Cremer; Editing by Louise Heavens)