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* 2010 revenue down 9 pct at $27.9 bln
* New bookings up 5 pct at $21.3 bln, backlog down 5 pct
* Headcount up 8 pct in 2010 (Adds quote from annual report, background, employees)
By Braden Reddall
SAN FRANCISCO, April 25 (Reuters) - Bechtel, the largest U.S. engineering company, posted on Monday a 9 percent drop in revenue in 2010, while it pulled in new work awards that were just 5 percent higher than in the depressed previous year.
Bechtel had targeted 2010 bookings growth of more than 20 percent, Chief Operating Officer Bill Dudley told Reuters last year, but he had also warned of cutthroat competition weighing on profit margins and had expected more challenges ahead.
The privately held company said in its latest annual report that it "weathered rough economic waters" to generate 2010 revenue of $27.9 billion, down from $30.8 billion in 2009.
Bechtel, which does not report profits, said its backlog of project revenue fell 5 percent to $78 billion, while it booked $21.3 billion in new work, up 5 percent on 2009 levels.
"More than two-thirds of our new work was outside North America, underscoring our strategy to expand into developing and emerging nations," the company said in the annual report.
Bechtel kept hiring last year too, increasing the number of employees in 2010 by nearly 8 percent to 52,700, having already added 5,000 in 2009 -- which it had called an "extremely challenging" year.
"Continued economic uncertainty makes forecasting difficult, but we think we're well-positioned for the future," the San Francisco-based company said in its latest annual report.
Bechtel, which manages projects from nuclear reactors and oil refineries to government services and transport, competes with companies such as Fluor Corp (FLR.N), Jacobs Engineering Group Inc (JEC.N) and URS Corp URS.N.
Revenue at Fluor fell 5 percent to $20.8 billion in 2010, mostly due to weaker spending on oil and gas projects, but analysts expect 15 percent growth in revenue for Fluor this year, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Bechtel said its oil, gas and chemicals division "set the pace" for the company in 2010, with more than half a dozen liquefied natural gas projects being built or developed. (Reporting by Braden Reddall; editing by Carol Bishopric)