(Adds detail, outlook)
By John Revill
ZURICH, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Geberit reported a 1.9% increase in organic sales during its fourth quarter, the plumbing supplies company said on Thursday, helped by strong demand in eastern Europe and Italy.
The Swiss company, which makes piping and ceramic products for bathrooms, reported fourth-quarter sales of 702 million Swiss francs ($727.99 million), undershooting Refinitiv estimates of 713 million francs.
When converted to Swiss francs, the company’s sales fell 1.1% from 710 million francs a year earlier.
For 2019 as whole Geberit’s sales rose 0.1% to 3.08 billion francs, slightly short of forecasts for 3.09 billion francs. When adjusted for currency movements, its sales increased 3.4%, within its target range of 3-4%.
The company, which is due to report its full year earnings on March 10, said it expects an operating profit margin of around 29%, matching the outlook it gave at the end of October.
Germany, the company’s biggest market, continued to be difficult with no sales growth during the fourth quarter as its economy slowed. Geberit, whose products are used in refurbishment and new-build projects, has also been struggling with a shortage of fitters in the country.
But better results came in Italy and eastern Europe, where currency adjusted sales rose during the fourth quarter by more than 7%.
In Britain sales fourth-quarter sales fell 1.2%. Last year the company warned of a slowdown in projects as builders became more cautious during the country’s protracted departure from the European Union.
Separately on Thursday, Geberit said executive board member Egon Renfordt-Sasse would retire at the end of March and be replaced by company veteran Martin Ziegler as head of products and operations. (Reporting by John Revill Editing by Michelle Martin)