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UPDATE 2-Clariant sales beat Q4 forecasts, expects pandemic hit in Q1

* Q4 sales drop less steeply than full year

* Catalyst sales helped, oil customers still a drag

* Big 2020 profit boosted by disposals, more to come in 2021 (Recasts to focus on fourth quarter)

ZURICH, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Swiss specialty chemicals maker Clariant on Thursday posted fourth-quarter sales that beat the forecast consensus, as the COVID-19 pandemic took less of a bite than earlier in the year and sales of catalyst chemicals in South Asia picked up.

Revenue in constant currencies fell 2% to just over 1 billion Swiss francs ($1.1 billion), compared to the 984 million franc consensus in a company-provided poll.

The decline is milder than the 5% drop for 2020, when revenue slipped to 3.86 billion francs.

Net profit last year rose to 799 million Swiss francs from 38 million francs in 2019, as Clariant benefited from disposals.

The results follow massive changes at Clariant, which got a new chief executive, Conrad Keijzer, late last year, just before its biggest shareholder Saudi Basic Industries (SABIC) forced out Chairman Hariolf Kottmann after 12 years at the firm.

“Catalysis sales improved by 12% in local currency, mainly attributable to a profound sales increase in emission control catalysts in India as well as an improvement in Specialty Catalysts and Petrochemicals,” the company said in a statement.

Clariant cited an “unprecedentedly weak environment marked by COVID-19, oil oversupply and adverse currency volatility” as dragging down its 2020 results, and said the pandemic would continue to hit business into at least the first quarter of 2021.

Still, analysts at Baader Helvea, with a “Buy” rating on the shares, said the dour tone that the company set in October for the fourth quarter had sounded worse than the situation had turned out to warrant.

Kottmann, who clashed with SABIC over a failed joint venture, agreed to no longer run for chairman under pressure from the Saudi company, which owns nearly a third of Clariant shares.

Clariant still plans to unload its pigments unit by the end of the year.

$1 = 0.8898 Swiss francs Reporting by John Miller; Editing by John Revill and Jan Harvey

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