UPDATE 2-Metso earnings propel shares to 3-month high

Thu Jul 31, 2014 10:10am EDT

* Q2 core EBITA 131 mln euros vs 104 mln in poll

* Order intake beats

* Lifts profitability target to 15 pct

* Shares rise 9 percent (Adds comments, background, updates shares)

By Sakari Suoninen and Jussi Rosendahl

HELSINKI, July 31 (Reuters) - Finnish engineering company Metso reported strong quarterly profits and orders and lifted its core earnings target to above 15 percent of sales within three years, sending its shares up 9 percent to a three-month high.

Metso makes most of its money from the mining industry, which has been retrenching after a decade of heady expansion. Weaker metals prices and an investor backlash over the scale of investment forced major mining companies such as Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton to slash spending.

Metso said it saw light at the end of the tunnel.

"The market has somewhat recovered... Mining investments seem to be bottoming out," CEO Matti Kahkonen told Reuters by telephone, though he cautioned that he did not expect demand to start growing again this year.

Analysts struck a similar tone. "This does appear to be suggesting that things are starting to improve. I'm not sure we're past the worst just yet, but things now look better than expected," Berenberg Bank analyst Alexander Virgo said.

Metso, which spun off paper machine business Valmet at the start of the year, said adjusted earnings before interest, tax and amortisation rose to 131 million euros ($175 million) in the quarter to the end of June from 118 million a year earlier, beating the average forecast of 104 million in a Reuters poll of analysts.

Order intake in the quarter totalled 947 million euros, also above the consensus forecast of 882 million.

Metso said expected to reach an EBITA margin above 15 percent of sales within three years. Its previous target was 11 to 16 percent.

Shares in Metso, which Britain's Weir Group tried to buy earlier this year, were up 9.4 percent at 29.65 euros by 1310 GMT, after touching 29.84, their highest since April.

Berenberg's Virgo said Metso's underlying performance was strong and the 15 percent EBITA margin target quite aggressive and well ahead of previous estimates.

CEO Kahkonen said three areas could each boost the operating margin by a percentage point: cost efficiencies, a concentration on more profitable business lines and improved capacity usage in manufacturing and services.

Metso said it was mulling a sale of its process automation business, which serves the pulp, paper and power industries. Kahkonen said a decision would come by the end of the year. ($1 = 0.7467 Euros) (Editing by Jane Baird and Tom Pfeiffer)

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