* Q1 EPS 78 cents vs Wall Street view of 76 cents
* Revenue rises 3 pct; Backlog up 7 pct at $37.2 bln
* Australian mining project makes up half of new awards
* Bought back 5.1 mln shrs in 4 months; 4 mln left to buy
* Shares up 11 cents in after-hours trading (Adds buyback comment, rival results, updates shares, byline)
By Braden Reddall
SAN FRANCISCO, May 5 (Reuters) - Fluor Corp (FLR.N), the largest publicly traded U.S. engineering company, posted a small increase in quarterly profit that beat analysts’ estimates, while reporting that its backlog of work expanded to a new high.
“We have a very robust prospect list and I think we are going to see a consistent improvement as we go into the second half of this year and into 2012 and 2013,” said Chief Executive David Seaton, a 26-year Fluor veteran who just took over in February from Alan Boeckmann, now the nonexecutive chairman.
The company’s backlog rose 7 percent to a record $37.2 billion, with a mining project in Western Australia accounting for half the $6.2 billion in new awards booked in the quarter.
Mining has made up a growing share of Fluor’s line-up of work in the past year, with less coming from its traditionally strong energy division, which has led to lower profit margins simply due to the nature of mining projects.
Houston-based rival KBR Inc (KBR.N), on the other hand, reported last week a doubling of first-quarter profit, helped by an increase in energy-related work. [ID:nN27210844]
Earlier on Thursday, smaller rival Aecom Technology Corp (ACM.N) raised its 2011 outlook on growth in emerging and natural resource-rich markets. [ID:nL3E7G52JB]
Seaton said U.S. natural gas-fired power plant opportunities were emerging because of rock-bottom gas prices, while he said Fluor was also looking at trying to win more work in biofuel projects, among other potential businesses.
First-quarter net profit rose to $139.7 million, or 78 cents per share, from $136.6 million, or 76 cents per share, in the same quarter a year earlier, Fluor said on Thursday.
Analysts on average had expected a profit of 76 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue rose 3 percent to $5.1 billion, which was far short of the average analyst estimate of $5.6 billion.
The Irving, Texas-based company reaffirmed its 2011 earnings outlook of $3.00 to $3.40 per share, while analysts have been looking for $3.28.
Fluor shares rose 11 cents to $65.80 in extended trading, after falling 0.8 percent in regular trade on the New York Stock Exchange.
Chief Financial Officer Michael Steuert said the company had spent about $360 million buying back 5.1 million shares in the past four months, and there was no timetable for buying the remaining 4 million shares in the current program.
The stock is down about 1 percent since the start of 2011, whereas KBR shares are up 18 percent in that time.
Fluor suffered early this year from delays at Britain’s Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm, which saw a subcontractor go bust and a dispute between Fluor and owner Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE.L) over welding quality. [ID:nN23149229]
But Seaton said on Thursday the project was now progressing as expected, with 108 out of 140 turbines installed and work on the rest set to resume in September. (Reporting by Braden Reddall; Editing by Robert MacMillan, Richard Chang and Steve Orlofsky)