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UPDATE 2-Novozymes shares drop on lower sales, eyes growth in 2021

* Shares down as much as 4%

* Q4 sales, EBIT miss expectations

* Firm expects 2-6% sales growth this year

* CFO sees return to growth in bioethanol market in Q2 (Adds share reaction, CFO comment, analyst comment, background)

COPENHAGEN, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Novozymes shares fell 4% on Tuesday after the enzyme maker missed fourth-quarter sales and earnings expectations, but said it expected sales to bounce back in 2021.

Sales were flat in 2020, short of the 5% annual growth target set out in 2019 for 2020 through 2022. The company expects organic sales to grow 2-6% in 2021.

“Despite the prevailing uncertainties, I’m confident that we will get back to growth in 2021,” Chief Executive Ester Baiget said in a statement.

Nordnet analyst Per Hansen said in a note that while the outlook for 2021 looks better, “the question is whether they can deliver on that growth”. The quarterly report was not “thrilling”, he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Novozymes’ sales last year, prompting the firm to suspend its guidance in April, as lower fuel consumption caused bioethanol output to drop drastically, affecting its bioenergy division.

Novozymes, which produces enzymes used in bioethanol production, reported a 9% decline in annual bioenergy sales.

“With the world we know now, we absolutely expect the bioethanol market to return to growth in the second quarter,” Chief Financial Officer Lars Green told Reuters.

Sales in Household Care, its biggest division which makes enzymes for detergent makers such as Procter & Gamble, rose 5% for the year as more people bought detergents during lockdown periods.

But Green said that figure was likely to drop towards low single-digit growth this year as sales normalise.

Fourth-quarter earnings before interest and tax came in at 796 million Danish crowns ($129 million), below an average estimate of 914 million from analysts in a Refinitiv poll.

Novozymes proposed to pay a dividend of 5.25 per share and said it would initiate a share-buy back programme worth 1.5 billion Danish crowns. (Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard; Editing by Ed Osmond, Mark Potter and Jan Harvey)

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