* Q4 adj EPS $0.11 trails est. of $0.33
* Q4 rev slips 20 pct
* Sees very slow Q1 due to delays in project starts
* Shrs down as much as 6 pct (Recasts; Adds conference call details, analyst comments)
By Antonita Madonna Devotta
BANGALORE, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Martin Marietta Materials Inc (MLM.N) posted fourth-quarter adjusted profit that trailed analyst estimates by a wide margin, hurt by a 40 percent decline in volumes, and forecast a "very slow" first quarter.
The construction market has been running counter to the moderate pick-up seen in other industries. Also, construction activity is rather quiet in the winter.
"Frankly, it is hard to see much going on in the first quarter. Contractors are not coming into this year with an enormous book of business," Chief Executive Ward Nye said on a conference call with analysts.
Earlier in the day, the company -- which produces aggregates for highway, infrastructure, commercial and residential construction -- said it expects overall volumes to rise 2 percent to 4 percent in 2010, unless the drop in commercial construction is greater than anticipated.
The infrastructure construction market was weakened as state budgets were negatively impacted by the prolonged recession, and further exacerbated by the expiration of the federal highway bill in September 2009, the company said.
However, Martin Marietta expects the reauthorization of the bill -- delayed in Congress -- to occur too late in the year to meaningfully affect 2010 aggregates demand.
Martin Marietta said it expects 2010 volumes at its rail products segment and sales to the infrastructure and residential markets to improve in 2010.
For the fourth quarter, the second-largest U.S. supplier of construction aggregates posted a net loss of $3.2 million, or 7 cents a share, compared with a profit of $25.3 million, or 60 cents a share, a year ago.
Excluding items, the company posted adjusted earnings of 11 cents a share, while analysts on average expected a profit of 33 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Total revenue dropped 20 percent to $374.7 million, against analysts' consensus estimate of $383 million.
Citigroup analyst Clyde Lewis said the failure to renew the main highway program, coupled with slow spending from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus scheme, were the key problems for the company in the quarter.
"The pricing prospects for the industry are good. We expect profitability to improve and the value of reserves to climb over the medium to long term, Lewis said.
However, the analyst expects sizeable reductions in consensus estimates for the company.
Shares of the company were trading down $3.61 at $76 in late afternoon trade Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange, after dipping to $74.67 earlier in the day. (Reporting by Antonita Madonna Devotta; Editing by Unnikrishnan Nair)