* Q4 Autos EBIT margin 10.6 pct vs Rtrs poll avg 9.2 pct
* BMW bucks margin squeeze suffered by Audi, Mercedes
* Ups dividend to 2.50 eur/shr vs Rtrs poll avg 2.64 eur/shr
(Adds details, background)
FRANKFURT, March 14 BMW, the world's
largest premium carmaker, beat fourth-quarter profit forecasts
at its core auto business thanks to surging demand in China and
an increase in margins that bucked the trend at rivals.
The German firm said on Thursday earnings before interest
and tax at its auto business rose by a third to 2.08 billion
euros ($2.7 billion) on the back of higher car sales, beating
analysts' average forecast of 1.76 billion in a Reuters poll.
The company proposed hiking its dividend by about 8 percent
to 2.50 euros, returning roughly a third of its overall profits
to shareholders, though slightly less than analysts' estimate.
The operating margin at BMW's car business, the best gauge
to benchmark it with peers Mercedes-Benz and Audi
, grew to 10.6 percent in the three months ended
That was a rare improvement from both the previous quarter
and the same period the year before, and beat a Reuters poll
estimate of 9.2 percent. It also bucked an industry trend
towards worsening pricing power.
While BMW's car business increased profitability by about
1.4 percentage points over the previous year's period, Audi
suffered a 1.3-percentage-point decline and Mercedes reported a
drop of 3 percentage points.
BMW's shares failed to benefit, however, falling 1.1
percent, in line with losses among auto sector peers.
The firm declined to provide an earnings forecast ahead of
next week's annual press conference. Mercedes and Audi have both
warned of a deterioration this year amid recession in Europe.
Mercedes expects operating profit to decline slightly while
Audi has signalled its return on sales will be at the upper end
of an 8-10 percent range, after achieving an 11.0 percent margin
Germany's trio of luxury carmakers are in rude health,
however, when compared to mass market peers like Peugeot
, currently grappling with a glut in capacity, bloated
workforces, eroding prices, heavy losses and tumbling demand.
($1 = 0.7722 euros)
(Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner, Editing by Harro ten Wolde
and Mark Potter)