* Bourbon says growth indicators for vessel demand excellent
* Says to sell $2.5 billion of ships to cut debt
* Confident results to improve in coming year
* FY core profit up 35 pct to 406 mln eur vs f‘cast 394 mln
* Shares rise as much as 9.9 pct to one-month high
By James Regan and Benjamin Mallet
PARIS, March 6 (Reuters) - France’s Bourbon SA, which supplies ships for the oil and gas industry, sees sustained demand for its vessels this year as stable oil prices encourage clients to make substantial investments.
“All the growth indicators regarding demand for vessels are excellent, whether for drilling, construction and commissioning fields, or installing subsea well heads,” Bourbon said in a statement on Wednesday.
Shares in Bourbon rose as much as 9.9 percent to a one-month high of 22.88 euros, the top gainers on the broad French SBF120 index, giving the group a market value of 1.5 billion euros. The stock was up 7.1 percent by 0915 GMT.
Chief Executive Christian Lefevre said: “The stability of the price per barrel (of oil) at around $110 has encouraged our clients to make substantial investments in a market where growth prospects point to sustained demand for vessels in 2013.”
Bourbon’s fleet, for which its clients include Total , Exxon Mobil and Petrobras, is expected to exceed 550 vessels in 2015 and ranges from tugs that can tow oil drilling rigs to fast crewboats that can move personnel between offshore platforms.
The group is taking delivery of 45 vessels this year and has already committed 500 million euros to buy 41 new vessels.
Looking further ahead, Bourbon said it aims to focus on cutting its 2 billion euros of net debt to ready the group for a growth push beyond 2015.
Bourbon plans to sell 80 to 85 ships worth $2.5 billion in total this year and next, choosing instead to charter them for a period of 10 years. Debt reduction will come at the expense of its 2015 gross margin target, however, which it cut to 30 percent from 45 percent.
The group is still targeting annual revenue growth of 17 percent after 2012 sales rose 17.7 percent to 1.19 billion euros.
CEO Lefevre added he was confident the group’s results would improve in the coming year.
Analyst Christine Ropert at brokerage Gilbert Dupont noted the company’s “solid prospects for 2013” and said in a note: “These reassuring operating and strategy elements strengthen our ‘buy’ recommendation.”
The company said core profit rose 35 percent last year to 406 million euros thanks to an improvement in daily rates, a stronger dollar, fleet expansion, sustained utilisation rates and a capital gain on the sale of three vessels.
This came ahead of the average estimate for EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) of 394 million euros in a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S analyst poll.
Bourbon’s marine services fleet grew to 439 vessels by the end of last year, 21 more than in 2011, including 72 deepwater offshore vessels and 102 shallow water offshore vessels. It added eight crewboats to 265.
The company’s subsea services fleet remained at 18 vessels.
Brent futures rose towards $112 a barrel on Wednesday, tracking the surge in equity markets and expectations of a revival in demand growth following positive data from the United States and China, two of the world’s top oil consumers.