* Q4 sales 149.6 mln euros vs forecast of 156 mln in poll
* Net profit up 5 pct at 12.4 mln euros, vs forecast of 13.2
* Expects sales growth of around 3-4 pct
* Dividend unchanged at 0.2 Swiss francs a share (Adds further details throughout)
ZURICH, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Swiss dental implant maker Nobel Biocare reported its first rise in sales in six years on Tueaday and said it expects further growth along with a higher market share in 2014.
The financial crisis hit dental implant makers hard as cash-strapped consumers, especially in southern Europe, cut back on cosmetic dentistry, while a growing number of low-cost rivals ate away at the market share of premium players.
But signs that an economic recovery is slowly taking root are expected to buoy the outlook for Nobel Biocare, which returned to annual revenue growth for the first time since 2007.
“The 2013 results give us confidence that our strategy is working and that we have significantly strengthened the competitiveness of the business,” Chief Executive Richard Laube said in a statement.
Nobel Biocare is investing in research and development, further training of its sales force and improving relationships with dentists as it attempts to claw back market share lost to rivals during the crisis.
The company expects sales to grow around 3 to 4 percent this year at constant exchange rates and to improve its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) margin by about 1 percentage point.
Fourth-quarter sales rose 3.9 percent at constant exchange rates to 149.6 million euros ($205 million), generating a net profit of 12.4 million euros, up from 11.8 million in the same period in 2012.
However, the result fell short of the average of analysts’ forecasts, for sales of 156 million and a net profit of 13.2 million.
The geographic picture remained weak in Europe, with markets still sluggish in Germany, France, Spain and Italy, although the group noted an improvement in Belgium and Russia.
In the Americas, its second biggest market, sales rose 5.1 percent, buoyed by a solid performance in the United States. Japan started to show signs of recovery having been adversely impacted by negative publicity about dental implants, with sales up 2.9 percent.
Nobel Biocare proposed a dividend of 0.20 francs per share, unchanged from the previous year. ($1=0.7298 euros) (Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Greg Mahlich)