* Q4 pretax profit 170 mln vs forecast $157 mln
* Expects sales drop in first quarter
* Europe weak, North America better
STOCKHOLM, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Autoliv, the world’s biggest maker of car safety equipment like seatbelts and airbags, said its sales in the first quarter of 2013 were likely to fall four percent due to weak European car markets.
The Swedish company, which supplies all the world’s top car manufacturers, relies on western Europe for about 30 percent of its sales, where new registrations fell in 2012 to their lowest since 1995 and production also sank. In contrast, North American output rose, Autoliv said.
It said in a statement that light vehicle production was also expected to decline sharply in the first three months of 2013 in western Europe, to levels not seen since the financial crisis in 2008-2009.
“As a result, Autoliv’s organic sales are expected to decline by 4 percent in the first quarter of 2013 compared to the same quarter of 2012,” it added.
For the full year, it expected a rise in organic sales, which strips out acquisitions and currency changes, of 1 to 3 percent, less than the 4 percent growth in 2012.
It saw its operating profit margin at around 8 percent in the first quarter, and around 9 percent for the year, which would be below the 9.7 percent notched up for 2011.
The profit margin forecasts exclude costs for scaling back or changing production to meet demand as well as ongoing antitrust investigations, including one in South Korea.
Capacity alignment costs for 2013 were expected to reach at least $25 million but not to exceed $50 million, it added.
Pretax profit for the fourth quarter of 2012 fell to $170 million from $211 million in the same period of 2011, ahead of the average forecast in a Reuters poll of $157 million.
Autoliv shares were down three percent at 418.40 crowns by 1100 GMT.