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ABB reverses order decline with small increase in 4Q

Power technology and automation group ABB reported an end to its almost two-year decline in order intake by posting a small increase in new business on Wednesday and forecasting that 2017 would likely be dominated by market uncertainty.

The maker of products ranging from transformers to industrial robots said orders -- an indicator of future profit -- increased 0.2 percent to $8.277 billion in the three months ended Dec. 31 from the same period a year earlier.

Logos of ABB AG sit on display outside the company's semi-conductor plant in Lenzburg, Switzerland.
Gianluca Colla | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Logos of ABB AG sit on display outside the company's semi-conductor plant in Lenzburg, Switzerland.

The figure, which beat the average estimate of $8.129 billion in a Reuters poll of analysts, marked an improvement from the $7.53 billion in the previous quarter. That marked ABB's weakest period for orders in nearly seven years, when customers waited on the sidelines while ABB decided whether to keep its power grids business.

"We delivered growth in the fourth quarter, driven by the strong performance of Power Grids, in a continued tough market," said Chief Executive Ulrich Spiesshofer in a statement.

A slew of projects worth $842 million, including one to provide an 1,800 km power link connecting southern and central India, helped reverse the recent order decline.

Base orders were 1 percent lower than a year earlier. These orders, which are worth less than $15 million, give a picture of the underlying health of ABB's business.

The company said macroeconomic and geopolitical developments are signaling a mixed picture with continued uncertainty, although there were positive signs in the United States and it expected growth to continue in China.

ABB said it expected 2017 to be a "transitional year" with weak oil prices and foreign exchange effects expected to continue to weigh on the company's results.

ABB's sales during the quarter fell to $8.99 billion, missing the average estimate of $9.01 billion in a Reuters poll. Net profit rose 140 percent to $489 million, behind the poll average of $545 million.

ABB's rivals in industrial automation and electricity supply have reported good starts to the year, with growth beginning to return to previously subdued sectors like oil and gas.

Factory automation systems maker Rockwell Automation Inc raised its full-year earnings forecast after posting a higher-than-expected quarterly profit.

Siemens raised its earnings forecast after profit jumped in the fourth quarter, lifted by its factory automation unit.

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