* Stay-at-home trend boosts demand for gardening equipment
* First-quarter EBIT 2.29 bln crowns vs consensus 1.95 bln
* First and second quarters most important for sales (Updates shares)
STOCKHOLM, April 22 (Reuters) - Husqvarna’s first-quarter operating profit jumped 61% to a record high as retailers snapped up its power tools ahead of the peak gardening season in the northern hemisphere, the Swedish company said on Thursday.
After an initial slowdown early in the coronavirus pandemic, Husqvarna has benefited from the stay-at-home trend under lockdowns, posting record operating profits for 2020 and now also in the first quarter of 2021.
In the first three months, its profit surged to 2.29 billion crowns ($272 million) thanks to a 24% jump in organic sales and a larger share of sales of high-margin products. Analysts had only expected profit to rise to 1.95 billion.
Husqvarna shares, which have roughly tripled over the past year, were down 2.7% at 0940 GMT.
Husqvarna said sales growth was particularly strong for battery-powered tools, watering systems, robotic lawn mowers and other professional products - categories the group has been refocusing on in recent years.
Chief Executive Henric Andersson told Reuters the gardening season had started on schedule in most markets with demand in the second quarter in line with expectations.
He expected sales to increase over the year, regardless of the weather conditions or the development of the pandemic.
The company does the bulk of its business towards the end of the first quarter and in the second, ahead of and during the peak gardening season in the northern hemisphere.
Husqvarna said it had so far managed to mitigate challenges caused by the pandemic, though strong demand coupled with global supply shortages continued to put pressure on its supply chain.
Andersson said Husqvarna was working on ways to encourage consumers with a newfound passion for gardening under lockdown to remain keen after the pandemic - such as by promoting online gardening planning programmes and communities. ($1 = 8.4086 Swedish crowns) (Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Krishna Chandra Eluri and David Clarke)