(Adds detail, background)
* Q4 orders 29.1 bln SEK vs forecast 32.7 bln
* Q4 EBIT 1.65 bln SEK vs forecast 1.75 bln
STOCKHOLM, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Skanska, the Nordic region’s biggest builder, said on Friday the outlook for its geographical markets was slowly improving after posting fourth-quarter order intake below expectations.
The Swedish group saw construction activity edge higher last year due to an upturn in the United States, its single biggest market, which was hit hard by the global financial crisis but is now well on its way to recovery.
A key factor in the company’s growth prospects in the U.S. is a surge in demand for new plants in energy-intensive industries such as steel, glass and fertilizer production to take advantage of the cheap shale gas.
Skanska said the outlook for its geographical markets and segments was mixed, but all in all, slowly improving.
“The macroeconomic situation is improving in the U.S. and the UK. We expect the civil construction market in our major geographies to remain stable or develop positively in 2014,” Skanska Chief Executive Johan Karlstrom said in a statement.
Order bookings at Skanska’s construction unit, where the group generates nine tenths of its sales, fell to 29.1 billion Swedish crowns ($4.48 billion) in the quarter from 32.0 billion a year ago, undershooting the 32.7 billion seen by analysts.
Skanska said operating earnings fell to 1.65 billion crowns ($254 million) from a year-ago 1.74 billion versus a mean forecast of 1.75 billion in a Reuters poll of analysts.
The company proposed a dividend of 6.25 crowns per share, in line with the 6.23 crowns expected on average by analysts, and up from the 6.00 crowns per share paid a year ago. ($1 = 6.4954 Swedish crowns) (Reporting by Helena Soderpalm; editing by Niklas Pollard)