* Q4 operating EBITDA 43.9 mln euros vs poll average 40.4 mln
* Expects 2013 EBITDA of about 280 mln euros vs 246 mln in 2012
* Keeps dividend at 12 cents per share
* Shares fall 3.3 percent (Releads on loss, adds shares, analyst comment)
By Angelika Gruber and Georgina Prodhan
VIENNA, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Wienerberger, the world’s biggest brickmaker, posted an unexpected net loss for 2012 on Tuesday because of high restructuring costs for its struggling European bricks business.
Shares in the Austrian company fell more than 4 percent despite a forecast for rising core profit this year in the expectation that its strong pipes business, improved earnings in North America and cost savings will offset a weak European market.
Chief Executive Heimo Schuech said that it is difficult to forecast market conditions in Europe, but he expects slight weakness in the demand for building materials.
An economic slowdown compounded by governmental austerity measures in Europe have led to a sharp decline in construction projects on the continent, where Wienerberger still makes more than 90 percent of its sales.
The company reported that a 43 million euro hit from its restructuring programme sent it to a net loss of 40 million euros ($53 million) for 2012, against an average forecast for a 6 million euro profit in a Reuters poll of seven analysts.
“From today’s perspective ... I assume that we will get by with these measures,” Scheuch told journalists when asked about possible additional restructuring costs this year.
Erste Group Bank analyst Franz Hoerl, however, expressed concern that there could be more costs to come, adding: “It’s still a long way until the end of 2013.”
Wienerberger shares were down 3.3 percent at 7.39 euros by 0926 GMT, off a low of 7.26 euros, underperforming a fall of 1.4 percent in the European construction index amid a global sell-off on Italy’s inconclusive election result and its potential impact on the euro zone financial crisis.
The company said that the restructuring measures, aimed at producing annual cost savings of 50 million euros by the end of 2014, saved 14 million euros last year.
It proposed keeping its dividend at 12 cents per share despite the loss, citing its ability to generate strong cash flow. Analysts had expected a payout of 7 cents.
Fourth-quarter operating earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation rose 10 percent to 43.9 million euros, beating the average poll estimate of 40.4 million euros and bringing the 2012 total to 246 million euros.
The company expects a 14 percent gain in core profit this year to about 280 million euros, slightly below analysts’ forecasts, and a net profit for 2013. ($1 = 0.7567 euros) (Additional reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Mike Nesbit and David Goodman)