UPDATE 1-SAS Chief Gustafson to depart for bearings maker SKF

(Adds SAS Chairman comment, analyst comment)

STOCKHOLM, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Rickard Gustafson will step down from his position as chief executive of the Scandinavian airline group SAS in the first half of the year to take the helm at the Swedish bearings maker SKF, the companies said late on Monday.

Gustafson will replace Alrik Danielson, who had already announced he was stepping down this year after six years as chief executive.

Gustafson, 56, has been CEO at SAS for a decade and also sits on the board of SKF’s largest owner, Foundation Asset Management (FAM).

He leaves SAS with the airline industry in crisis due the pandemic. SAS completed a capital increase in late 2020, a year of deep losses.

SAS Chairman Carsten Dilling said in a statement he was “both disappointed and sorry” that Gustafson was leaving, but applauded Gustafson’s performance at SAS.

“SAS is still in a critical - but stable position - and the board has of course immediately started the process to appoint a new President and CEO of SAS”, Dilling said.

Sydbank repeated its sell recommendation for SAS on Monday evening, saying Gustafson’s departure left a void at the airline at a critical time.

SKF generates about 70% of group sales in its far more profitable industrial business, while 30% stems from the automotive sector.

Under Danielson’s leadership, it has been revamping its vast factory network, raised spending on automation, pushed performance-based revenue models and cut costs.

SKF, whose rivals include Germany’s Schaeffler, consistently beat analysts’ forecasts throughout 2020, and in November raised its long-term profitability target. (Reporting by Johannes Hellstrom and Johan Ahlander; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Simon Johnson)