* Pretax profit 1.66 bln SEK vs consensus 1.33 bln
* Order bookings 32.0 bln SEK vs consensus 32.1 bln
* Says Europe to remain weak, optimistic on US
* Shares up 3.4 pct (Adds detail, background, shares)
STOCKHOLM, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Skanska, the Nordic region’s biggest builder, reported higher than expected fourth quarter profits on Thursday and was optimistic about the outlook this year for U.S. construction, its largest market.
Skanska has been banking on strong demand in the United States, where the housing market is on the mend after the financial crisis, to help offset weakness in Europe.
“The European markets are expected to remain weak, particularly for large new civil construction projects, and competition for these projects is intense,” it said.
The company said that despite the financial turmoil, there was a very positive market outlook for the United States. “Skanska has a strong market position in growing market segments, such as healthcare, offices and complex infrastructure projects,” it said.
Fourth quarter pretax profit rose to 1.66 billion crowns ($262 million) against a mean forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts for a profit roughly unchanged from the year-ago 1.33 billion.
Order bookings at Skanska’s construction unit, which makes up nine tenths of group turnover, fell year-on-year to 32.0 billion crowns, roughly in line with expectations. But this was up on the third quarter and Skanska said it had started 2013 with a 14-month order backlog.
Quarterly profit at the construction unit was slightly better than the company’s forecast in December when it announced writedowns in Latin America in the fourth quarter totalling 500 million.
Skanska proposed an unchanged dividend of 6.0 crowns per share as expected.
Its shares rose 3.4 percent at the opening, taking a year-to-date rise to 3.0 percent. ($1 = 6.3446 Swedish crowns) (Reporting by Anna Ringstrom. Editing by Jane Merriman)