* Swedish firm banks on growing demand for battery-driven tools
* Drive to sell more robotic mowers in the U.S.
* Operating profit jumped 18 percent in 2017 (Adds CEO comment, background, shares)
By Anna Ringstrom
STOCKHOLM, Feb 2 (Reuters) - The chore of pushing a mower around your lawn may become a thing of the past as householders sit back and watch robotic lawn mowers take the strain, helping to lift the performance of Swedish outdoor power tools group Husqvarna.
Husqvarna’s full-year operating profit jumped 18 percent last year helped by strong growth in Europe for robotic lawn mowers and other battery-driven products such as trimmers.
The company, which makes a broad range of products for forest, park and garden maintenance, produced its one millionth robotic lawn mower last year and says its Automower is the world’s best-selling robot lawn mower.
Robotic lawn mowers, a common sight in Husqvarna’s home market, use rechargeable batteries and mow within boundaries that the mower detects with its sensors.
While traditional petrol-driven mowers, trimmers and chainsaws still account for a large chunk of Husqvarna’s sales, the company is betting on strong demand growth for automatic mowers as well as battery-driven handheld tools that are greener, less noisy and vibrate less.
The group, which does the bulk of its business around the peak gardening season in Europe and the United States, posted a 3.8 billion crown ($483 million) operating profit and nearly reached its 10 percent profit margin target - 9.6 percent against 8.9 in 2016.
Husqvarna has warned that sales by its Consumer Brands division, which sells lawn mowers and handheld outdoor tools for householders and does the bulk of its business in the United States, would take a 1 billion crown hit in 2018 due to the scaling back of business with a big U.S. client.
CEO Kai Warn told Reuters that initiatives to get Consumer Brands back on track would include a push in the United States for its robotic mowers, which are currently in demand mostly in Europe.
The company, a rival of Stanley Black & Decker, Deere and Toro, proposed a larger than expected 15 percent rise in its dividend to 2.25 crowns a share, driving its shares up more than 2 percent to their highest since last July.
Warn said he expected the company to hit its margin target in 2018 helped by around 5.5 percent organic sales growth combined at its Husqvarna, Gardena and Construction divisions, which accounted for around a third of sales in 2017.
In the fourth quarter - Husqvarna’s seasonally slowest - operating losses were smaller than expected at 70 million crowns, boosted by a 55 million crown one-off gain, against a year-ago 108 million loss.
$1 = 7.8491 Swedish crowns Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Niklas Pollard and Adrian Croft