STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden's Autoliv, the world's biggest maker of seat belts and airbags, beat forecasts with its fourth quarter pre-tax profit on Thursday and gave a positive outlook which helped its shares higher.
Autoliv said it expected January-March sales growth of around 15 percent and that its first quarter operating margin would exceed the 7.2 percent recorded in the first quarter of last year.
The company reported a 67 percent jump in fourth quarter pre-tax profit to $128 million, against analyst expectations in a Reuters poll of $115 million and $77 million a year earlier.
"The numbers were better than expected on most points and profitability was strong. Cash flow was also more solid than it has been for several quarters," Handelsbanken analyst Carl Holmqvist said.
Autoliv said sales surged 25 percent year-over-year to $1.5 billion in the fourth quarter, mainly boosted by a 50 percent increase in sales of its so-called inflatable curtains or airbags which protect against side collisions, and higher market share in seat belts.
The sales growth beat consensus and was in line with the company's own expectations that it would exceed the 14 percent rise in sales recorded in the previous quarter.
For the first quarter, Autoliv said it expected light vehicle production in Western Europe, Japan and North America to be almost flat.
Currency effects -- Autoliv reports in the dollar, which has fallen against most other currencies -- were expected to add 11 percent to first quarter revenues and acquisitions a further 3 percent, the company said.
"Based on these assumptions, sales would grow in the region of 15 percent in the first quarter, a level which Autoliv expects to exceed slightly," it said.
This year, Autoliv announced it would close is Dutch plant and move production to Eastern Europe where labor is cheaper.
Autoliv CEO Lars Westerberg said on Thursday the move of production to Eastern Europe would continue and said he expected price pressure would force the company to lower its prices.
"I think it will be as usual, meaning between 1.5 and 2 percent," he told Reuters.