Aker Kvaerner beats forecasts, returns to profit

OSLO, Nov 6 (AFP) - British-Norwegian industrial conglomerate Aker Kvaerner returned to profit in third quarter 2002, beating market expectations and posting net earnings of 155 million kroner (21 million euros, 20 million dollars). The company said that in the same period last year, when it was struggling to stay afloat and before its merger with Aker Maritime, it had recorded a net loss of 4.2 billion kroner. Aker Kvaerner, active in oil services, naval construction and paper, also posted an operating profit of 169 million kroner in third quarter 2002 against a loss of 2.9 billion in the same period last year. Pre-tax earnings came to 195 million kroner after a loss of 4.3 billion in the July-September quarter of 2001. Both figures surpassed expectations by analysts of 154 million kroner in operating earnings and 99 million in pre-tax profit. But sales in the period fell 11.5 percent to 10.1 billion kroner. Analysts had foreseen third quarter revenue of about 11.6 billion. "The strong financial foundation established by the group at the end of last year has been further strengthened through the year," Aker Kvaerner said in a statement. "This stronger platform will allow the group to prevail against the generally weak market conditions that are expected to continue well into next year." The company predicted that while its oil and gas business would continue to enjoy a "postive trend" in the fourth quarter, its construction and pulp-and-paper operations were likely "to struggle in difficult markets." "The shipbuilding business is expected to show a strong decline in profits," it added. phy/nh/hd