03/05/2015 09:15 EST | Updated 05/05/2015 05:59 EDT

SNC-Lavalin, Already Facing Criminal Charges, Sees Shares Hit 2-Year Low


MONTREAL - SNC-Lavalin's shares hit a more than two-year low Thursday after the embattled engineering and construction firm issued an outlook for 2015 that disappointed industry analysts.

The firm, which is facing criminal charges in Canada, said it is targeting adjusted earnings per share from its core business at between $1.30 and $1.60 per share. That's well below the $2.22 per share forecast by analysts.

“While we believe market conditions will be challenging in 2015" the company remains optimistic about its long-term performance," CEO Robert Card said.

The outlook was viewed by analysts as negative, but Maxim Sytchev of Dundee Capital Markets cautioned that the market is ascribing very little value to the company's core engineering and construction business, a position he described as exaggerated.

"Expectations are low for this name, with the market concerned about debarment," he wrote in a report. "(But) when $12.3 billion of (order) backlog is being given $1.1 billion in equity valuation, we believe there is a disconnect."

SNC-Lavalin, which said its order backlog had increased almost 50 per cent from $8.3 million a year ago, was charged by the RCMP last month with fraud and corruption for its dealings in Libya. That could lead to the company being barred from bidding on federal contracts for a decade if convicted.

The projected earnings, though below expectations, are forecast to come mainly from oil and gas specialist Kentz, acquired last August, and from SNC-Lavalin's power division. The projection excludes restructuring charges and acquisition-related costs.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, the company's shares sank to $37.66 before recovering slightly to $38.01, down 3.9 per cent. That was still the lowest price since December 2012.

The Montreal-based firm made no reference to its legal problems as it described 2014 as a "year of significant change."

Card said expanding its oil and gas capabilities and power segment will drive engineering and construction profit improvements in 2015.

SNC-Lavalin reported fourth-quarter results that beat expectations and included a large gain from the sale of AltaLink to a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway group.

Its net profit surged to $1.15 billion in the fourth quarter even though losses from its core engineering and construction operations grew to $255.6 million from $31 million a year ago.

SNC earned $7.51 per diluted share for the three months ended Dec. 31, up from 61 cents per share or $95.5 million in the prior year.

The fourth-quarter results were boosted $1.32 billion or $8.65 per diluted share from the sale of AltaLink as well as $16.6 million or 11 cents per share on the sale of other infrastructure investments.

Revenue for the quarter totalled $2.82 billion, up from $2.12 billion.

For the full year, it earned $1.33 billion or $8.74 per diluted share, compared with $35.77 million or 24 cents per share in 2013. Adjusted profits increased to $373.7 million from $111.7 million while revenues grew four per cent to $8.2 billion.

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