UPDATE 2-French IT firm Atos targets 2021 rebound but margins disappoint

(Adds further details, share performance, analyst comment)

Feb 18 (Reuters) - French IT consulting group Atos said on Thursday it was aiming for a sales rebound in 2021, recovering from a dip caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but its margin guidance disappointed investors, sending shares lower.

Atos shares were down 5.7% at 0945 GMT, reaching the bottom of France’s blue-chip index CAC 40.

The Paris-based group said it targeted revenue growth of 3.5% to 4% this year and an operating margin between 9.4% and 9.8%. While the sales goal exceeded analysts’ expectations of 1% to 2% revenue growth, the operating margin fell below the 9.8% anticipated by analysts.

“The 2020 margin outcome and 2021 margin guidance may be seen as somewhat disappointing, especially given the strong bookings trend,” UBS analysts said in a note.

The group’s previous outlook, suspended in April after the coronavirus outbreak, aimed for organic revenue growth of 3% to 4% over 2019-2021, with an operating margin reaching around 13% in 2021.

Atos 2020 sales fell 2.3% in constant currency terms to 11.18 billion euros ($13.47 billion), and below I/B/E/S Refinitiv estimates of 11.24 billion euros.

The group has recently embarked on a series of bolt-on acquisitions, buying cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and digital consultancy firms in a bid to grow its revenue by 5% to 7% in the mid-term.

Earlier in February, Atos and U.S. rival DXC Technology decided to end talks about what would have been the deal-hungry IT consulting group’s biggest acquisition to date, at more than $10 billion.

Atos shares have fallen 16% since the DXC deal talks were announced on Jan. 7.

$1 = 0.8303 euros Reporting by Bartosz Dabrowski and Juliette Portala ; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and David Evans