* Operating loss of 665 mln SEK vs forecast loss of 315 mln
* Says Europe weak, N.America, Asia customers cautious
* Says sees pick up in N.America and Asia in first quarter
STOCKHOLM, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Swedish speciality steel maker SSAB on Friday posted a much worse than expected quarterly operating loss but said it expected demand to increase in North America and Asia after a weak end to the year.
Steel makers have been hit by the global downturn and economic growth in China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of the alloy, that was the slowest in 13 years in 2012.
The gloom has been particularly deep in Europe and steel demand is likely to fall further this year before a mild rebound takes hold in 2014, steel industry body Eurofer said this week.
SSAB’s loss - the second three-month period in a row in the red - was 665 million Swedish crowns ($103.4 million) compared to a profit of 50 million in the same period a year ago and the average forecast of a loss of 315 million in a Reuters poll.
A bigger-than-expected loss in Europe and lower profits than forecast in North American were behind the figures. SSAB said that Asian customers had also adopted a wait-and-see approach.
There were some signs of brightness.
“It is our assessment that volumes will continue to increase somewhat within SSAB Americas and SSAB APAC during the first quarter of 2013, as compared with the fourth quarter,” the company said in a statement.
“The trend in Europe still remains weak and difficult to assess.”