UPDATE 1-Autoliv profit beats forecast on strong car production

Fri Jan 31, 2014 6:58am EST

* Q4 pretax profit $195 mln vs mean market forecast $190 mln

* Chalks up growth in all regions

* Sees flat margin, more moderate growth in 2014

STOCKHOLM, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Auto safety equipment maker Autoliv posted a bigger-than-expected rise in fourth-quarter earnings and forecast continued sales growth this year, albeit at a slower pace than in 2013.

An unexpectedly strong upturn in global car production in 2013 continued into the final months of last year, lifting Autoliv's sales in all regions when excluding the impact of exchange rate fluctuations. China was particularly strong.

Autoliv, the world's biggest maker of safety gear such as seat belts and airbags, said fourth-quarter pretax profit rose to $195 million from a year-ago $170 million. That beat a mean forecast of $190 million in a Reuters poll of analysts.

Handelsbanken analyst Hampus Engellau said stronger-than-expected global car production was the main factor behind the upbeat results.

"It hung in the balance whether Autoliv had already factored this into their guidance," he said. "It turned out that Autoliv had been conservative, so the organic growth came in more than five percentage points better than they were expecting."

The company, based in Sweden though it reports in dollars, forecast organic sales would grow about 7 percent in the first quarter with an adjusted operating margin of about 8 percent, somewhat lower on both counts than in the final months of 2013.

Autoliv also said it expected organic sales to increase 5 percent this year compared to 7 percent in 2013, while its adjusted operating margin was seen at around 9 percent versus 9.2 percent last year.

"We will have a year of high investments in order to support further expansion in the growth markets," Autoliv Chief Executive Jan Carlson said in a statement.

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