STUTTGART, March 28 (Reuters) - Germany's Daimler forecast first-quarter operating profit to be significantly lower than in the last three months of 2012 after premium car and commercial truck markets were weaker than it expected.
"Operating profit will very clearly be below the level of the fourth quarter, but that should mark the low point for the year," finance chief Bodo Uebber told Reuters in an interview at the group's headquarters on Thursday.
He reaffirmed the group expected a stronger second half at its flagship Mercedes-Benz premium car business with margins recovering after an initial drop.
"Demand for cars, trucks and transporters in Europe was more restrained than we expected," he said, adding that the truck markets of the United States and Japan were also rather weak.
China also has not been kind to Daimler's Mercedes-Benz brand of luxury cars, with sales falling a total of 20 percent in the first two months of 2013.
"It will take longer before Mercedes can return to robust sales growth in China," said Uebber.
Thanks mainly to a 709 million euro ($906.17 million) one-off gain from the December sale of a 7.5 percent stake in EADS, Daimler was able to grow earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) year-on-year by 7 percent to 2.32 billion euros in the fourth quarter, its strongest reporting period of 2012.
Shares in Daimler extended their losses, trading 2.2 percent lower at 1445 GMT.
$1 = 0.7824 euros Reporting by Hendrik Sackmann; Writing by Christiaan Hetzner; Editing by Maria Sheahan