LUDWIGSHAFEN, Germany BASF (BASFn.DE), the world's largest chemicals company by sales, predicted a small rise in operating profit this year, with an uncertain economic outlook tempering its optimism over growing demand from automakers and consumer goods companies.
The German firm did not specify on Tuesday what it meant by a slight increase in adjusted earnings before interest and tax (EBIT). But analysts had on average forecast a gain of almost 10 percent, and BASF shares fell more than 1.5 percent.
"It seems that the company does not want to become too positive, too early," said Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Markus Mayer, who also pointed to lower-than-expected earnings at some of BASF's specialty chemicals businesses.
The German group's fourth-quarter EBIT, adjusted for one-off items, rose 18 percent to 1.45 billion euros ($1.99 billion), beating the 1.38 billion euro average estimate in a Reuters poll of analysts, helped by strong margins at its oil and gas as well as its basic petrochemicals divisions.
"In the Asian emerging markets and in Eastern Europe, we forecast a significant increase in automotive production," the maker of catalytic converters, insulation foam and coatings said.
Demand from consumer goods makers in Japan and the United States and from the electronics industry would also shore up earnings in a generally challenging economic backdrop, it added.
BASF's largest U.S. rivals, Dow Chemical Co (DOW.N) and DuPont (DD.N), last month sought to boost shareholder value with share buyback programs after posting forecast-beating quarterly earnings.
But BASF, which spent about 10 billion euros on its own stock between 1999 and 2008, reiterated it would focus on expanding and upgrading its network of plants.
At 5.30 a.m. ET, its shares were down 1.6 percent at 81.92 euros, worse than the 0.4 percent decline of the STOXX Europe 600 Chemicals index .SX4P.
(Editing by Maria Sheahan and Mark Potter)