* Eramet sees H1 operating income close to H2 2013
* Q1 sales down 10 pct, manganese maintenance weighs
* Q2 sales seen up vs Q1 as nickel prices recover (Writes through with quotes, detail)
PARIS, April 29 (Reuters) - French mining and metals group Eramet said on Tuesday it expected to make another operating loss in the first half of 2014 despite a recovery in nickel prices driven by an Indonesian ban on unprocessed mineral exports.
The group, whose nickel operations are based in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, has been pinning its hopes on Indonesia’s export embargo to curb global oversupply and bolster prices that sank to a four-year low in 2013.
Nickel prices had recovered significantly since March but still remained down 15 percent on year at “an abnormally low average level” of $6.64 a pound, it said.
“Eramet group turnover should pick up in Q2 2014, compared with Q1 2014,” it said in a first-quarter sales statement.
“Nonetheless, in view of the relative movement in nickel and manganese prices, current operating income for first-half 2014 should be approximately the same as in second-half 2013,” it said.
Eramet posted a current operating loss of 45 million euros for 2013, including losses in each half. Its nickel branch suffered a full-year loss of 222 million euros and the poor market conditions led Eramet to postpone its flagship nickel mining project in Indonesia.
Benchmark nickel prices in London reached their highest in almost 15 months on Monday as the metal used in stainless steel after a rally sparked by Indonesia’s export ban in January.
Eramet’s shares have mirrored nickel prices this year, rising to a 14-month high last week.
The group’s first-quarter sales fell 10 percent compared with the year-earlier period to 714 million euros.
Its nickel branch saw sales fall 8 percent to 166 million euros, as a 5 percent increase in output at its Doniambo plant in New Caledonia was offset by still weak market prices.
Sales at the manganese division were down 16 percent on the year at 326 million euros, hit by shutdowns for maintenance in Gabon and Norway as well as a 7 percent drop in manganese ore spot prices in China linked to destocking, Eramet said.
Eramet said measures introduced to improve productivity and trim costs at all levels of the group will continue during 2014. The group announced in February plans to cut costs by 110 million euros this year, after 85 million in savings in 2013, and also reduce investments by about 40 percent from average levels in 2012-2013. (Reporting by Andrew Callus and Gus Trompiz; Editing by James Regan)