* Sales of 2.6 billion Swiss francs match analyst expectations
* Company lifts profit margin expectations
* Germany, Geberit’s biggest market, set to remain bright spot
* Shares rise 3.5 percent (Recasts with comments from conference call)
By John Miller
ZURICH, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Higher sales in Germany, expected to remain a bright spot this year, helped Swiss sanitary equipment maker Geberit AG to match analysts’ 2015 revenue expectations, sending its shares higher.
The company, which supplies bathroom fixtures and water piping systems, also lifted expectations for operating profit for the full year 2015.
Sales in Germany, a market that generates more than a third of Geberit’s revenue, rose 14.5 percent in the fourth quarter, helping to offset weaker revenue elsewhere in Europe.
Germany will grow further in 2016, Chief Executive Officer Christian Buhl predicted, amid uncertainty elsewhere in the European construction industry.
“If you look at our five largest markets -- Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, France -- the only market where we are confident about growth is Germany,” Buhl said on a conference call with analysts.
“All other countries, we don’t see growth, we see a stabilisation.”
The shares rose 3.5 percent to 338.50 francs by 1100 GMT.
Sales in China fell in the last quarter by “significantly more than 10 percent,” said Buhl. Plunging oil prices had also dented demand from government and private projects in the Gulf region, he added.
Despite the tough economic backdrop, Geberit plans to raise prices from June.
“We will have normal price increases for 2016, which means about 1 to 1.5 percent across our regions and countries,” Buhl said.
In Switzerland, which represents about 12 percent of Geberit revenue, the company was hurt by a 10 percent discount it offered to customers offset a strong Swiss franc. The rebates were meant to keep people from buying less-expensive products made in neighbouring countries.
Annual sales increased by 24 percent to nearly 2.6 billion Swiss francs ($2.59 billion), in line with analyst expectations of 2.59 billion francs, after buying Sanitec, a Nordic ceramics maker, in 2014.
Geberit increased its projected earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization operating margin to 26.5 percent from previously “around 26 percent.”
“Geberit was able to achieve a significant recovery in Germany, a development that more than compensated for weak business in Switzerland and outside Europe,” Vontobel analyst Christian Arnold wrote in a note to investors.
“Consequently, they were able to lift their margin target.”
It plans to release full financial statements in March. ($1 = 1.0044 Swiss francs) (Editing by Alexander Smith and Keith Weir)