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UPDATE 2-SNC-Lavalin to scale back in 15 countries, reports surprise loss in main E&C unit

Shanti S Nair

main E&C unit@ (Adds shares, details on a stake sale, compares with estimates, analyst comment)

May 2 (Reuters) - Canadian builder SNC-Lavalin Group Inc said on Thursday it was scaling back operations in 15 countries as it reported a surprise loss in its main engineering and construction unit, sending its shares down 6 percent.

"We will be focusing on our core geographies and are removing unprofitable revenues across 15 countries where we have sub-scale operations," Chief Executive Officer Neil Bruce said in a statement.

The company also said its previously announced deal to sell a 10.01 percent stake in an Ontario toll operator for C$3.25 billion may be blocked by the operator's shareholder.

The company has been informed that the shareholder may use its right of first refusal, SNC said.

If the deal is blocked, SNC will have to pay a break up fee of 2.5 percent of the deal value and at least one analyst cautioned that this could push up the company's costs for the year.

This could be an additional headache for Montreal-based SNC that is already dealing with a host of problems that include trade challenges in Saudi Arabia and corruption charges back home.

It reported negative cash flow for the quarter and is in midst of restructuring its operations to simplify it and cut costs by just over C$100 million for the rest of 2019.

However, SNC maintained its target of full-year 2019 profit and CEO Bruce said "we remain confident that we can deliver our 2019 outlook, despite being disappointed with our first quarter performance."

Raymond James analysts in note titled "Yikes!" seemed skeptical of the company's reaffirmation of full-year guidance, saying that the implied big second half turnaround seemed "unrealistic".

For the first quarter, the company reported an adjusted loss of 8 Canadian cents per share in its E&C unit for the quarter, compared to analysts' average estimates of a profit of 33 Canadian cents, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Adjusted net income attributable to shareholders fell to C$36.9 million ($27.47 million) in the first quarter ended March 31, from C$136 million, a year earlier.

Revenue fell almost 3 percent to C$2.36 billion. ($1 = 1.3431 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Shanti S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)