January 28, 2020 / 12:11 PM / in a month

UPDATE 1-Sweden's Autoliv sees 2020 sales upturn amid gloomy auto market

* Autoliv sees 3-4% organic sales growth in 2020

* Forecast assumes continued fall in global car production

* Shares rise 3.1% (Adds detail, background, CEO comment)

STOCKHOLM, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Sweden's Autoliv, the world's largest producer of airbags and seatbelts, forecast on Tuesday an upturn in underlying sales growth in 2020 as it reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat market expectations.

While the car industry spent 2019 in a deep slump, hit by soft demand and mounting investment in electric and self-driving technology, Autoliv managed to keep growing on the back of years of order wins in the wake of the collapse of its former rival Takata, now a part of Joyson.

The slump still saw Autoliv cut financial guidance repeatedly and embark on a plan to trim annual costs, axing hundreds of jobs in production as well as in areas such as sales and R&D.

The automotive supplier, whose stock is listed in both the United States and Sweden, said it expected organic sales - excluding acquisitions, divestments and currency moves - to grow 3-4% this year versus 1.2% in 2019, with its adjusted operating margin reaching at least 9.5%, up from 9.1% last year.

Refinitiv estimates showed analysts on average forecasting a 10% margin for 2020. Autoliv last year set a target of lifting its margin to 12% and to outgrow global light vehicle output by 3-4% organically over the coming 3-5 years.

"The start of the year will be challenging but we expect a significantly stronger second half year," Chief Executive Mikael Bratt said in a statement.

Autoliv's outlook assumed a further 2-3% fall in global light vehicle output this year after a drop of close to 6% in 2019 and Bratt told Reuters it was too early to call when production would bottom out.

Fourth-quarter adjusted operating earnings at Autoliv rose to $242 million from $240 million a year earlier, beating the $230 million seen by analysts, according to Refinitiv estimates.

Sweden-listed shares in Autoliv, which competes with ZF TRW as well as Joyson Safety Systems, were up 3.1% at 1142 GMT, trimming losses this year to 7%. (Reporting by Niklas Pollard; editing by Johannes Hellstrom and Mark Potter)

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