* Shares fall 9 pct
* Brazil problems related to one project
* Expects rising sales, higher margins
By Balazs Koranyi
OSLO, Feb 15 Oil services firm Aker Solutions reported disappointing earnings and fresh difficulties in Brazil on Friday, sending its shares down 9 percent.
Aker Solutions, which has expanded from its Norwegian home into key offshore markets like Brazil, East Africa and Australia, said its operations suffered some delays, quality issues and joint venture problems, resulting in the profit miss.
Overall, Aker predicted good orders and rising margins this year as oil services companies benefit from resilient demand from offshore oil firms looking for the next big find.
"It was a solid but a bit too bumpy fourth quarter," Chief Operating Officer Per Harald Kongelf said.
The company's biggest businesses, like subsea and engineering, performed in line with expectations but smaller units disappointed, the order backlog fell and a major capital project, a new type of rig the firm is developing, is taking longer than expected.
Aker's comments came just weeks after rival Saipem shocked investors when it said margins on its contracts were far lower than expected, prompting it to cut 2012 targets and paint a bleak outlook for 2013.
Saipem's troubles, partially related to Brazil, sent its shares tumbling and prompted investors to reassess the valuation of oil services firms after expectations rose too high.
Aker Solutions shares fell 9 percent by 1006 GMT, compared with a flat sector index.
They are still up 74 percent since the start of 2012.
In the fourth quarter, its operating profit totalled 875 million crowns ($158.81 million), short of analysts' expectations of 1.04 billion.
BRAZIL TROUBLE, INDUSTRY OPTIMISM
Aker's issues in Brazil are reminiscent of its troubles there several years ago, when the subsea business suffered huge losses, briefly dragging the entire firm into the red and forcing a management shake up in Brazil.
Kongelf said the new troubles were limited to one project and the firm had learned from the earlier subsea problems and immediately replaced the unit's management.
"Brazil is a market which is challenging to operate in. The local content requirement is very high and the amount of skilled resources is very limited," Kongelf said.
Aker said it expected no further losses in Brazil.
But its Category B rig project in Norway, one of the firm's biggest capital investments, is also a concern as it is suffering delays, partly as a result of the complex design work.
Still, the firm said it was optimistic, anticipating a big volume of orders and rising margins this year as demand from offshore oil firms shows no sign of abating.
"Aker Solutions experiences strong demand for its services in most regions of the world, and tendering activity is high," Chief Financial Officer Leif Borge said.
In particular, the firm expects a big volume of orders in subsea and continued margin improvement after turning around the unit.
"The backlog remains supportive for spending in engineering, subsea and drilling," Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note.
"The North Sea provides important opportunities in the coming years, but given the size of some of these developments, we do anticipate intense competition, so Aker Solutions will have to show pricing discipline."
Analysts said it continued to have an upside as its valuation at an enterprise value to 2013 EBITDA ratio of 7.5 was below that of peers, including Cameron's 10 and Schlumberger's 8.