* Q4 EBITDA 534 million DKK vs average 537 mln forecast
* Q4 revenue 2.17 bln, above average 2.05 bln forecast
* Says sees 2013 rev of 7.2 bln, EBITDA margin above 25 pct
* Launches share buy-back of up to 700 mln DKK
* Shares rise 3.5 percent (Adds comments, share price, details, background)
By Mette Fraende
COPENHAGEN, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Danish jeweller Pandora reported a rise in fourth-quarter earnings and forecast higher revenue this year, marking the end of a turbulent year as its strategy to return to affordable luxury began to bear fruit.
Shares in the maker of charm bracelets jumped nearly 4 percent as analysts said they expected Pandora to exceed its own 2013 outlook during the year. Shares have dropped 30 percent since Pandora went public in 2010.
“With this fourth quarter, the company is closing a horrible chapter and opening a new and better one,” said Sydbank analyst Soren Lontoft.
“I expect that the guidance for 2013 will be significantly exceeded,” Lontoft said, joining other analysts who viewed the company’s outlook as conservative.
Pandora forecast this year’s revenue to rise to 7.2 billion crowns from 6.7 billion in 2012, below analysts’ average forecast of 7.4 billion crowns, and the EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) margin to be above 25 percent.
The company, which manufactures in Thailand and sells mainly in Europe and North America, had a glittering market debut in October 2010 before running into difficulty when it said it had priced itself away from its core clientele, to whom it aimed to sell “affordable luxury”.
It launched a strategy to realign its product mix after it downgraded its outlook and sacked its CEO. The strategy was bearing fruit, it said, with retailers’ stocks improving. Christmas sales had also helped to boost the results.
“2012 was a year of re-setting the business,” said Chief Executive Bjorn Gulden, adding that its new product range was well received. Gulden, who was appointed in December to lead the turnaround, also denied a media report he had plans to take the helm at German sportswear firm Puma.
“Pandora performed very well in the fourth quarter - our most important quarter - led by particularly strong Christmas sales across most important markets,” Gulden said.
In February the company allowed retailers to swap unsold stock for new and often lower-priced items in a bid to end the decline in sales. It has estimated the stock return would cost around 700-800 million crowns in 2012.
Fourth quarter EBITDA rose around 2 percent to 534 million crowns ($94.57 million), slightly below forecasts in a Reuters poll of analysts, who expected 537 million. Revenue in the fourth quarter rose to 2.17 billion, slightly exceeding forecasts.
U.S. sales climbed 6.3 percent while European sales saw a 24 percent rise, cushioning a decline in the Asia Pacific region of 7.2 percent.
“It is not just a company which expands through the opening of new stores all the time. The existing stores managed to lift their sales, and that is very positive,” said Alm Brand analyst Jesper Christensen.
“It shows that the turnaround is fully successful and that we can now look forward,” Christensen said.
Shares were 3.4 percent higher at 1109 GMT against a falling benchmark index in Copenhagen. The stock rose as high as 149.8 crowns, not far from an 18-month high of 149.9 crowns set on Monday.
Pandora said it would buy back shares of up to 700 million crowns, appointing Nordea as lead manager for the programme.
Going forward, the Board would aim to maintain a stable and then increasing nominal dividend per share, using the dividend for 2011 of 5.50 crowns per share as the reference point, it said. (Editing by David Cowell and Clelia Oziel)